Creditors have voted to liquidate the Illawarra Hawks’ remaining assets after the team was put into administration for the second time in five years.
- Creditors owed more than $2 million have voted to liquidate the Hawks’ remaining assets and dissolve the company
- Injuries to LaMelo Ball, rising running costs and COVID-19 are blamed for the franchise’s financial collapse
- Staff are owed thousands in unpaid wages and there are calls for the franchise to adopt a new model
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.
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.
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.
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’
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.
“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.