Broncos' title tilt built on good business
Profits took a hit at the Brisbane Broncos in 2014 but the pay-off could well be the 2015 Telstra Premiership.
When it was announced last July that founding coach Wayne Bennett would be returning to the club even the master coach thought success would take time but the financial strength of the business fast-tracked his rescue mission.
With Brisbane Broncos Limited recording post-tax profits totalling $5.542 million for the three years from 2011-2013 the club was able to sever ties with coach Anthony Griffin and Bennett's restructure of the playing roster could begin as soon as he put pen to paper.
Where other clubs post significant financial losses year upon year and it can take coaches years to make meaningful changes to the playing squad, Bennett was able to use the financial position of the club to make sweeping changes.
Ben Barba, Martin Kennedy, Josh Hoffman and David Hala were all released despite having existing contracts with the Broncos while others such as Ben Hannant and Jake Granville were not re-signed.
It allowed Bennett to bring in international representatives Anthony Milford, Darius Boyd and Adam Blair along with James Gavet and Travis Waddell over the course of one pre-season to remodel his playing stocks, not to mention long-time staff members Jeremy Hickmans and Scott Barker.
It came at a cost, with football expenses and costs associated with restructuring the football department blowing out to $16,539,833 in 2014, an increase of $2.94 million on the previous year.
All told the costs of running the football department rose 43 per cent over the course of the past two years yet such is the robust nature of the Bronco business that the organisation was still able to post healthy profits.
In-house operation of membership and merchandise along with an expanding sponsorship portfolio has made the Broncos a business model to be envied, and one which Panthers supremo Phil Gould has studied at close quarters.
Despite coming out of the first stage of chemotherapy treatment just three weeks ago for a brain tumour doctors discovered in July, Broncos CEO Paul White will be at ANZ Stadium on Sunday to celebrate what the Broncos have achieved not only on the field, but off it.
"Sometimes the margin between success and failure is razor-thin," White told NRL.com.
"We lost five or six games last year by two to six points. You win those and you finish top four.
"On-field success is the thing we are ultimately judged on – wins and losses and competing at the back-end of the season – but you can't deliver that success unless you have got a strong and growing membership base and that you are commercially sound.
"Profit in sport shouldn't be a dirty word because what your members, your players and your staff want is business confidence.
"If you have got that confidence in the way you run your club then everyone else can have confidence that we have the mechanisms in place that we can continue to reinvest in our business.
"Over the last four years we've taken our membership base from 14,000 to nearly 30 [thousand] and our sponsorship has gone from under $7 million to over $10 million in one of the toughest economic environments you could possibly ask for.
"From the business side of things we finished the year wonderfully well – as good as we ever have.
"We had two sell-out events at Suncorp and they're sell-out events because they're Brisbane Broncos games.
"It's disingenuous for people to assume that [sell-outs] just happen because it is Queensland or it is Brisbane.
"We've got a very large and growing membership base and they're the people that I want to thank for helping the Broncos and the NRL to deliver those two sell-out events."
The 10 wins the Broncos recorded in 2013 were the fewest in the club's history and even before they fell into the finals last year coach Anthony Griffin was told he would not be required to see out the remaining year of his contract.
For a club that had been one of the NRL powerhouses it appeared that a dramatic and lengthy overhaul was needed but White knew otherwise, telling Bennett upon his arrival: "We're not far away."
"Having watched many of these young men over the last five or so years, sometimes you've got to watch them lose to understand their capacity to win," White said.
"Even though we lost games and I know people weren't happy with us at times we very rarely ever turned it up.
"At times we were criticised because we would fall short but we never fell short without some courage.
"Wayne has been very calm, which he always is.
"He's got that confidence that when people are around him – players and staff, myself included – you can feed of that confidence.
"It's not confidence with an ounce of arrogance but confidence with humility and I think that's what gives us a chance on Sunday afternoon."