The Canberra Raiders have quietly been building a commercial property empire worth tens of millions of dollars as the NRL club's cashed-up parent company looks to end its dependence on pokies.
A dismal season on the field for the NRL operation last year was matched by below-par financial performance, slumping to a loss of more than $220,000 on revenues of almost $12 million, including nearly $2 million in cash and in-kind benefits from the ACT government.
But the Raiders' parent group, The Canberra District Rugby League Football Club Ltd, enjoyed cash-flows last year of almost $50 million and healthy profits of $3.6 million.
The club's controlling entities have established a property fund, the Canberra Raiders Trust and an associated trading vehicle, CRTC Limited, which was registered in mid-2011 and is now fully funded.
The trust is now worth more than $33 million and has already made substantial investments in a portfolio of office and retail projects.
The Queanbeyan Leagues Club, the financial engine room of the group, diverted more than $15 million last year into the new property group and still retains a healthy balance sheet.
The Canberra Raiders have previously refused to publicly disclose details of their financial performance, but documents lodged with corporate regulator ASIC show the NRL club recorded a $226,000 loss in 2010-2011 despite netting almost $12 million from TV money, gate receipts, merchandising, sponsorship and match-day sales.
The club's income also includes $1.4 million in annual ''appearance fees'' from the ACT government, which also provides payroll tax concessions worth $500,000 each year. The fortunes of the football club will be improved by the two-year sponsorship deal with Chinese technology giant Huawei worth $1.7 million completed in March.
Despite the bottom-line loss posted by the NRL club in 2010-2011, its parent outfit is in rude financial health.
The Canberra Times understands that two large interstate office investments have been acquired and the jewel in the crown of the property empire is the purchase of a Bunnings Warehouse site in the Sydney suburb of Seven Hills.
The Raiders group is easily the region's biggest operator of poker machines with more than 830 pokies in seven clubs across the ACT and Queanbeyan.
The Mawson Club, which recorded gaming profits of nearly $3 million on gambling revenue of nearly $5.3 million, also contributed $200,000 to The Canberra Raiders Trust last year.
March marked 10 years since The Canberra District Rugby League Football Club Ltd took full control of the Raiders back from News Limited with the club hemorrhaging up to $200,000 a month.
But leagues club president John McIntyre told The Canberra Times that the days of struggle were over.
''[Melbourne Storm coach] Craig Bellamy said that the Raiders were a team under pressure, well I don't know where he got that from,'' Mr McIntyre said. ''If there is pressure, it's on the board and the management not to take its eye off the ball.''
Mr McIntyre said that he and his colleagues were pleased with their commercial real estate acquisitions, some of which were yielding annual returns of up to 8 per cent. But no property had been bought in the ACT.
''It has been all interstate but that's not to say that we haven't looked at opportunities here,'' he said.
Mr McIntyre said the diversification strategy was vital to ensure that the group could guarantee the future of the Raiders' NRL side and the financial security of the game's junior and senior leagues in the region.
''We need to diversify if we are going to guarantee the game of rugby league, and that's not just the Raiders,'' he said.