Open letter from CEO Barry Russell

From Football Club CEO Barry Russell
To Sharks Members

On the back of the news of Saturday’s Shaun Johnson signing and in talking through some of the current issues affecting the club, I would like to take this opportunity to update Sharks Members and fans.

I make no apologies for starting this email with a major positive, that being the announcement that Shaun Johnson, the current New Zealand Test half back, signed a three-year contract with the Cronulla club last Saturday.

When the recruitment process began and it became apparent we were the front runners to land Shaun’s signature, I knew we were getting a wonderful athlete and an exciting rugby league player. However, in meeting him and his fiancée Kayla on the weekend, it became obvious the Sharks would also be getting an outstanding ambassador for our sport.

Football wise he will slot seamlessly into our team from next year, bringing with him that attacking flair and x-factor every team needs. But off the field I can also see Shaun making a significant contribution to our community initiatives with Sharks Have Heart, in forging strong and positive relationships with our corporate partners and by regularly engaging with our loyal Members and fans.

And while on the subject of player signings, on Tuesday we also announced the extension of Kyle Flanagan’s contract, with the young halfback confirmed as a Shark through until at least the end of the 2021 season.

Kyle has handled the step up at each level through his development process, from a 14-year-old playing Matthews Cup, to having a major role in the State and National championship success of the SG Ball team in 2015, before smashing point-scoring records in the NYC competition in 2017.

Then last year, despite still being eligible for the under-20’s, Kyle helped guide the Newtown Jets into the ISP Grand Final and made his NRL debut in round 24 against the Knights.

With Shaun coming to the club, Kyle’s re-signing, we have our 2016 Premiership-winning half in Chad Townsend and another youngster in Braydon Trindall knocking at the door, and we are in great shape for the next few seasons when it comes to our halves and play makers.

We lost one very important member of our club in Valentine Holmes, and we wish him well in his endeavours as he looks to crack the NFL, but as one door closes, one player moves on, another opens and we are very excited about the prospect of having a Kiwi international, a former Golden Boot winner and one of the game’s most exciting attacking players, joining our Club.

As for our coach, again there has been speculation as to Shane Flanagan’s future. We are in discussions with a view to finalising his future as soon as possible. Shane is busy preparing a team and coaching through the pre-season, but negotiations are on-going and we are confident a deal will be struck and a contract signed in the very near future.

However, this open letter is not just about football matters, recruitment and re-signings, I’ll leave that to the coach, his staff and the players, it is also aimed at keeping our Members and fans up to date on a number of other issues currently in the news.

I can confirm we were forced to make redundant some of our loyal and hardworking staff members last week and it goes without saying it was extremely sad and disappointing, not only for those who were let go, but to everyone within our football administration department with whom they had forged close bonds and relationships.

Unfortunately, the board had no choice but make staff cuts and redundancies as part of a business restructure which was conducted to change the business model. The challenge now is to make our football operations a stand-alone profitable business.

Construction of our Woolooware Bay development continues to the west of the stadium and we are hopeful of finalising plans soon and beginning the Leagues Club refurbishment and the building works on the site of our current car park.

A retail centre, a hotel, restaurants and dining options, as well as more apartments are planned for the eastern side of the development.

The continued works will ensure a level of financial security into the future, however our challenges are current and our cash flow and our budget forecasts had to be addressed for today. We can’t rely too heavily on the development to be the cure-all for any financial issues we might face in the short term.

I won’t deny the reports, we are currently under financial stress, but the club has been through these situations before and we will come through this time as well.

It is no secret we still have sponsorships to sell, including some major properties on our NRL jersey, however we are working tirelessly towards finding not any partner, but the right company, brand or organisation, to partner with us into the future.

On the back of the Shaun Johnson signing, and perhaps having something to do with the reporting of our financial and sponsorship situation, alerting companies to the fact that we have partnership opportunities available, I have fielded calls from potential partners in the past four or five days.  I remain confident and optimistic we will have this part of our business in order before the start of the 2019 season.

Unfortunately, the jersey sponsorship issue has also affected the merchandise side of our business and for this we apologise. We would have loved to have more 2019 jerseys, polos and the like on the shelves for members and fans to purchase prior to Christmas, but retailers have held off placing orders in waiting for sponsorships to be announced.

We do have a pop-up store inside the Stadium with 2018 and 2019 stock, with all offerings also on-line, and I hope you can find a Sharks Christmas gift amongst the products we have available.

I also understand concerns as to the salary cap issue and the Integrity Unit investigation, but all I can reveal is the fact that it is on-going with no indication of when a conclusion might be reached. While I would love to update you on the current situation, there is nothing more I can report.

In trying to implement the best possible governance practices and to protect the integrity of the club, we self-reported the anomalies found from 2015 and earlier, which I have been told the NRL will look at favourably when and if assessing a penalty. We have fully cooperated with the Integrity Unit and as frustrating as it is for us, and for you our Members, to be waiting to hear the findings, we have no choice other than to be patient and to let the investigation to run its course.

Last week was a challenging one on a number of fronts, but I can guarantee everyone here at the Sharks is committed and working hard to ensure not only the short-term success, but the long-term viability of the Cronulla club.

My membership department inform me that we have passed 12,000 Members signed on for the 2019 season, a membership record at this time of year for our club. That sort of support is encouragement for management, staff and the playing group and I trust I can count on you to stick with us through our current challenges, into the 2019 season and beyond.

I have no doubt success is in our future and I’d love you to be a part of it.

Regards,

Barry Russell
Football Club CEO