Kiwi entrepreneur buys the Melbourne Storm
Melbourne Storm's stunning transition from the basket case of Australian sport to rugby league powerhouse has reached another milestone with their sale to a private consortium.
Less than three years after the Storm were stripped of two NRL titles for rorting the salary cap, chief executive Ron Gauci officially handed over the reigning premiers on Tuesday to their new owners.
New Zealand entrepreneur and new chairman Bart Campbell heads a group of Melbourne and Australasian businessmen called Holding MS Australia, who have bought the club from News Limited.
Gauci's successor as chief executive, Welshman Mark Evans, aims to have the club breaking even within four to five years.
Gauci has mixed feelings about handing over the reins to Evans - sadness that his time there is over, but massive pride at what the Storm have achieved on his watch.
When Gauci became chief executive on July 21, 2010, it was billed the toughest job in Australian sport.
Now the Storm are the reigning NRL premiers with membership approaching 15,000 and they are aiming for 20,000.
If the Storm can reach their membership target, it would place them in the NRL's upper echelon for membership numbers, with South Sydney the league leaders both on the competition table and in member numbers.
The Rabbitohs have more than 26,000 members, while Brisbane - the NRL's last remaining club owned by News Ltd - had just under 19,500 at the beginning of the season.
Gauci said the club has completely turned around from the dark days of 2010.
"What was the biggest story in 2010 from a negative perspective became the biggest story in sport from a positive perspective only two and a bit years later," Gauci said.
"To be here today, knowing full well that we've achieved well ahead of schedule this landmark day, of course I take a lot of pride in that.
"I'm not surprised at all - when you have the right ingredients around you ... you shouldn't be surprised with the success that comes your way."
Gauci said the team's pride and strength, plus the strong financial backing of News Ltd and the NRL's determination to have a successful club in Melbourne, had him confident back in 2010 that the Storm would bounce back.
"All we had to do was put together - as Craig and Frank (coach Craig Bellamy and football manager Frank Ponissi) have done on the field - a strong team off the field," Gauci said.
It represents the end of an era for Melbourne, who had been a News Ltd club since their inception 15 years ago.
Meanwhile, the Broncos do not expect News Ltd's sale of the Storm to impact on them.
Their chief executive Paul White said he was not expecting any change in the current ownership of the six-time premiers, who are now the last remaining NRL asset of the company which once ran Super League.
"They (News Ltd) have consistently communicated back to us they have no plans to change their share holdings," White said.
The other members of the consortium that has bought the Storm are likely to be revealed at a function in Melbourne within a fortnight.