Panthers will be number one: Gould
Two years ago they were on the brink of insolvency, today they're possibly the most valuable sporting commodity in the country.
Brand consulting firm Landor Associates this week valued the Panthers at a whopping $46.2 million, making them the most valuable sporting brand in Australia.
And Panthers general manager Phil Gould envisions that one day his club would be the number one sporting organisation in the nation as well.
"Over the next 10 years, I think we will become the number one sporting club in the country. I don't have any real doubts about that," Gould told NRL.com.
However the Panthers' brand rating – based on the strength of the club's image – copped an AA- ranking from Landor Associates, well below the AA+ rankings of the NRL's leading brands the Brisbane Broncos and Sydney Roosters.
But Gould said the research showed not only how far they could go, but how far the Panthers Group had come.
Declining food revenues, high poker machine taxes, smoking bans and previous mismanagement had reportedly cruelled the club at the end of 2011, leaving them with over $80 million in debt and just days away from being liquidated.
The Panthers Group hired former TAB boss Warren Wilson in a last-ditch attempt to save the club and within a year the former first grader reportedly slashed costs, lifted trade revenue by 48 per cent and the Panthers' vast portfolio of licensed clubs underwent a complete overhaul.
"Warren's been able to make good use of the property portfolio the Panthers held," Gould continued.
"They were in a rather precarious position financially two and a half years ago but now, we're looking very strong. We're still only in the embryo stage of the overall master plan.
"We're going to look significantly different in the next two to 10 years as the master plan is executed. But right at this stage, it's wonderful to know that our brand has taken on this significant rating.
"Being brutally honest though, we're nowhere near as good, or as big, as we're going to be over the next five years."
Within the next half-decade, the Panthers' primary residence on Mulgoa Road will undergo an $850 million redevelopment, complete with an NRL academy and Western Sydney Community and Sport Centre.
"We're just about ready to starting putting shovels in the dirt now. It's pretty much all ready, finances are ready," Gould said.
"We expect completion of the NRL academy by October 2014. We expect construction on the Western Sydney Sporting and Community Centre to commence late 2014 for completion early 2016.
"With that, there are associated construction works going on around our property, totalling around about $80 million over the next two years.
"We're just in the first stage of an overall master plan that might take 10 years to execute, but it'll be good to get this out of the way early."
It's all with the aim of making the Panthers the number one sporting organisation in the country, which has all of a sudden become a realistic aim after Thursday's report.
"Given the facilities we're going to build and what we're creating at Panthers and the strength of Panthers, what it will become commercially as well as sporting-wise and community-wise, we can be number one," Gould said.
"That's our aim. We think western Sydney deserves it and we want to be the biggest and most recognisable sporting franchise, certainly in that part of the world. And if you're the biggest there, you're probably going to be the biggest anywhere."