Illawarra Hawks collapse after their worst season in history

Creditors have voted to liquidate the Illawarra Hawks’ remaining assets after the team was put into administration for the second time in five years.

A report from administrator Michael Jones revealed the Hawks were unable to meet outstanding debts of more than $2 million and recommended the company be wound up.

It also revealed staff and players who had been stood down since April were owed about $750,000.

The NBL currently owns the franchise licence after taking it back from former owner Simon Stratford, and it has committed to paying outstanding player salaries.

However, there has been no word on whether the league will honour the contracts of other Hawks staff, including coach Matt Flinn, who was one year into a three-year deal.

The Hawks made history last season when their game against the Sydney Kings attracted the biggest ever NBL crowd of 17,514 fans.

One of main drawcards was new Hawks recruit 18-year-old LaMelo Ball — the face of the NBL’s inaugural NextStars program.

Illawarra Hawks coach Matt Flinn has been stood down along wiht other non-playing staff.

Illawarra Hawks coach Matt Flinn has been stood down along wiht other non-playing staff.

Hawks coach Matt Flinn along with other non-playing staff have been stood down since April.(ABC Illawarra: Tim Fernandez)

He said aside from its financial woes the Hawks were starting to turn things around during the latest NBL season and were building a base for future success.

“One thing I’m really proud of is, in the 12 months since I was appointed the club was close to being sustainable and really on that path financially, so I’m really confident the new owner comes in and they’re going to have a good platform to work from,” Flinn said.

LaMelo Ball raised the profile of the Illawarra Hawks during his brief stint in the region.

LaMelo Ball raised the profile of the Illawarra Hawks during his brief stint in the region.

LaMelo Ball’s arrival gave the Illawarra Hawks a brief financial bump, but it wasn’t enough to save the franchise.(Twitter: Illawarra Hawks)

Ball’s signing was a massive coup for the regional club and was predicted to provide some much-needed profile and financial support.

But injuries limited Ball to just 12 appearances and meant the club received only a marginal bump to their bottom line.

Hawks coahc Matt Flinn is disappointed with the financial collapse of the club.

Hawks coahc Matt Flinn is disappointed with the financial collapse of the club.

Hawks coach Matt Flinn says this has been the most difficult period of his lifelong affiliation with the club.(ABC Illawarra: Tim Fernandez)

Despite increasing gross profit by almost half a million dollars from the previous year, the franchise still recorded a net loss of almost $100,000 due to an increase in player salaries and operating costs.

The administrator’s report noted that the club failed to turn a profit in the past four years, and suffered a $1.7 million loss over the previous two financial years.

The Hawks also struggled on the court, ending the 2019/20 season with 23 losses and just five wins — the worst season in the franchise’s history.

‘It was really tough’

Former Hawks captain Oscar Forman calling for new approach to break boom and bust cycle.

Former Hawks captain Oscar Forman calling for new approach to break boom and bust cycle.

Former Hawks captain Oscar Forman experienced the previous collapse of the franchise and says there needs to be a new model.(ABC Illawarra: Tim Fernandez)

The Hawks are no strangers to financial turmoil yet remain the only team to have competed in every season of the NBL since its inception in 1979.

As recently as 2015, the then Wollongong Hawks entered voluntary administration before re-emerging with a new owner and a new name.

Oscar Forman was the team captain at the time, and for him the experience was a bittersweet memory.

“It was really tough,” he said.

“It was a mixture of the community thinking, ‘great we’ve got the team back again’, but for the players it was bittersweet because the team was back again, but the debts and money unpaid was washed away, and people forgot about it.”

‘Blue-collar’ town’s team

Forman, who spent eight seasons with the Hawks and played in two finals, said in the modern game smaller regional teams were finding it increasingly difficult to compete with the financial clout of the capital city franchises.

Former Illawarra Hawks Captain Oscar Forman

Former Illawarra Hawks Captain Oscar Forman

Oscar Forman was captain of the Illawarra Hawks when they last when bust in 2015.(ABC Illawarra: Tim Fernandez)

“The Hawks have always been a team that punches above its weight, and that’s also why it’s good for the Illawarra, because it’s a blue-collar town and they enjoy going to watch them take on the Sydney, Perth and Melbourne teams who have a far higher spend,” he said.

The NBL said it was involved in ongoing talks with a number of parties interested in taking over the Hawks’ licence, among them bid reportedly spearheaded by Ball.

“We’re really hopefully that there’s a quick solution to it and it comes to the Illawarra and we can get on and do the job and the plan we started out to do,” Flinn said.