Warriors chairman promises club will stay afloat in NRL

The Warriors will survive as a club, even in the worst case scenario of no further matches in 2020 and the vastly reduced corporate and sponsor revenue this year.

That’s the strong assurance from Warriors chairman Rob Croot, in response to doomsday predictions from across the Tasman that the Auckland club could be on a knife edge, as they are privately owned and don’t have the backing of huge leagues clubs.

With the fallout from the Covid-19 virus outbreak expected to be ongoing, Australian pundits have speculated that the Warriors are particularly vulnerable, especially if they are unable to feature in a restarted competition, due to the myriad logistical challenges that may entail.

But Croot, who is also the managing director of Autex Industries, the Auckland manufacturing company that gained sole control of the Warriors last September, dismisses those theories.

In an exclusive interview with the Herald, he admits there might be pain ahead, but is adamant there is a way out.

“We have a financial plan that will see the club survive,” said Croot.

“We’ve been through the possible outcomes, looked at absolute worst case which is not a pretty picture.

“We have had conversations around survival, even down to legal responsibilities. I stand here today comfortable that we can survive.”

In a normal year the club receive around $13 million from the NRL, of which nearly $10 million is allocated to player salaries.

The rest of their revenue, which can range from $13-$15 million, comes from sponsorship, corporate membership, season ticket sales, gate receipts and other associated game day income, which will be mostly gone given the team is highly unlikely to run out at Mt Smart this year.

They received their full monthly payment from the NRL for April, but future disbursements depend on a new broadcasting deal, if and when the season restarts.

“Some of the financial modelling we have been working on is based on not playing anymore in the 2020 season and having limited support from our sponsors and corporates,” said Croot. “We have looked at worst case scenario. It won’t be easy, but with Autex’s backing we can survive this.”

The financial muscle of Autex could become critical. The Avondale-based company, which celebrated its 50th year in 2017, is a major success story, employing around 350 staff in New Zealand, Australia, England, United States and Asia and with annual turnover in excess of $100 million.

They have the ability to inject capital, but it won’t be an unlimited fountain.

The lockdown (and global recession) has hit Autex hard, like most other companies, and they need to be prudent over the next 12 months.

The situation will be a test for their board. Autex took over the Warriors knowing that NRL clubs don’t make monster profits (if any), and they would need to invest.

But there’s a difference between contributing a few million each year, and having to pledge a post-Covid-19 rescue package several times that.

“We are committed to the club and remain committed to the club,” said Croot. “We understood the financial needs when we went into this. It’s not ideal timing but every business is facing this.”

Croot added that the Warriors’ business model could be advantageous, compared to some of the larger Australian operations, as the NRL navigates uncertain future.

“We have made things a bit leaner, with Autex’s business nous at the table and the Warriors have never really been in a strong position financially,” said Croot. “[But] having less means you run on less. We have been touch and go, and we are probably not out of the danger zone yet, but we will survive this.”

“The larger clubs have got more to lose, a lot of hungry mouths to feed. Smaller, nimble clubs might have an easier road to survival, if they can manage cash flow and liquidity.”

Cash flow is an ongoing issue, as sponsor payments will reduce and obligations towards members need to be managed.

“[Of course] we will honour that,” said Croot. “But if everybody demanded a refund now, it’s a lot of cash that comes out of the system. If people can hang with us, and roll over to next season that would be a big help.”

“I believe that we will come out stronger. We will be a little bit different, but from a club and performance perspective we will be better, from going through this.”

By: Michael Burgess

Sports writer for NZME