Bunnies sponsors and fans rally, though pulling power in doubt
Father figure … Crowe has been closely involved. Photo: Getty Images
RABBITOHS chief executive Shane Richardson said the imminent departure of Russell Crowe as a co-owner of the club would not have a detrimental impact, even though his star power had been widely acknowledged as a reason the club had obtained an enviable list of sponsors and world-class players, including Greg Inglis and Sam Burgess.
Richardson said no sponsors had clauses in their contracts and all their major backers were on board for another two years. As well, Souths actually had a spike in membership over the past week, despite the news about Crowe's departure.
Under Crowe's reign, Souths formed alliances with a veritable who's who of Australia's corporate and business world. But when they signed a major sponsorship deal with the Star casino it was openly acknowledged his ability to help lure big names and performers to the casino was an important reason management invested in the red and green.
Crowe also paraded an A-list of Hollywood actors, including Tom Cruise, to the footy, and vision and photos of the celebrities in the club's battle colours were sent around the globe. It was all priceless publicity.
Richardson said none of the club's sponsorships were tied into Crowe being an owner and the deals had time running on them.
"We have nothing linked to [Crowe being the owner] at all, everyone has signed for the next two years," Richardson said.
And while Crowe might have put a ''for sale'' sign on his share of the club, Richardson said the Academy Award-winning actor was still keeping a close eye on the front office. He said he'd recently spoken to Crowe about a new merchandise deal.
''Russell might be selling [his share] but he's not going to quit being involved in the club, he's still going to have an interest in it; he'll continue his support for Souths [as a fan]," Richardson said. "It's interesting to note our memberships are going through the roof. We actually did more memberships this week than we had in ages. I think our supporters see Russell as being a bit like them, a fan, but they also realise he's brought a lot of success to the club on the field and off it. I think a lot of people are happy we're in a positive position and I don't see anything diminishing now that Russell has decided it is time to leave."
Richardson said the club expected a seven-figure profit next year which would build upon the six-figure profit they posted recently. "We are in a good space," he said. "We have a great squad, a quality coach, a great facility at Redfern Oval and we're about to embark on building a new high-performance centre that will be state of the art. We're currently in negotiations [with government] and we're hopeful it will be situated directly across from the ground where there is some redevelopment under way of the housing commission area."
Richardson said, just as was the case with the redeveloped Redfern Oval, the local community would have access to the high-performance centre. "It will be a lift for Redfern, it will help improve the quality of life here," he said. "We'll do it in the same way we have done at Redfern Oval where it is for the community to use when we're not there. The ground has been an asset, it's a source of pride for everyone and that's reflected by there never being any graffiti at the ground."