NRL clubs may sue ACC as sponsors flee
NRL clubs named in the Australian Crime Commission report are considering legal action amid revelations the allegations have cost Cronulla up to A$2 million in sponsorship.
Club bosses were reluctant to comment on their plans when contacted on Monday but one chief executive told Fairfax Media there had already been preliminary discussions among them about seeking damages over the impact of the report.
He said there were expected to be further discussions at Wednesday's meeting of chief executives in Sydney, and the six clubs - Canberra, Cronulla, Manly, Newcastle, North Queensland and Penrith - could be joined by others not named in the report.
The Sharks, in particular, are reeling from the fallout of the report, which officials say had cost them a potential new deal for the naming rights of their home ground.
The club, which had appeared to have overcome its financial woes after being granted approval to develop land adjoining the stadium, is also set to start the season without a jersey sponsor.
Cronulla's general manager of marketing and communications Patrick Woods said the Sharks had been in the final stages of negotiations for the stadium naming rights when the ACC report was released on February 7.
Woods said the report had caused the company to question the deal and walk away. ''We were very close to signing a million-dollar-plus deal and the ACC report was a major factor in the breakdown of those negotiations,'' Woods told Sponsorship News. ''The implications of these accusations is only starting to be felt now and we'll feel them for a long time.''
Woods said the setback was disappointing at a time when there was a lot of interest in the Sharks prospects this season after an impressive recruitment drive that has netted Luke Lewis, Michael Gordon, Chris Heighington and Beau Ryan.
''The last six months we've spent a lot of time and effort rebuilding the Sharks' brand from a commercial point-of-view, but also the football club has rebuilt the on-field performance and recruited some great talent.
''We're still tracking really well, with membership and corporate hospitality up 80 per cent and 36 per cent respectively on this time last year. Sponsorship was the final piece of the puzzle, and this report has definitely affected us.''
North Queensland chief executive Peter Jourdain said last week his club was considering legal action but
he did not want to discuss the matter when contacted on Monday. ''I am not making any more comments,'' Jourdain said.
Other clubs not named in the report into doping and match-fixing in Australian sport have also been affected, with Sydney Roosters general manager of marketing and communications Ted Helliar revealing his club had lost two potential new corporate partners.
Another chief executive said he had received numerous phone calls from sponsors last Monday wanting to know if the club was one of those named in the report. ''This has hurt everyone,'' he said.
Penrith have not lost any sponsors but the club believes the report will affect the ability to attract new ones.
Panthers officials intend to show Australian Sport Anti-Doping Authority representatives the effect of the report first-hand on Tuesday when they meet players from Penrith's senior and junior squads.
Meanwhile, North Sydney player Curtis Johnston met ASADA officials on Monday to explain the incident that led to him being stood down by the Bears last week.
Johnston told Fairfax Media that messages he sent on KICK last Monday about using performance-enhancing drugs and the contact details for a supplier was ''just a massive joke''.
The NSW Cup's 2011 leading tryscorer had played for the Bears in a trial two days before, and said he thought he was replying to a teammate but it is believed the player's ex-girlfriend, who forwarded the messages to North Sydney officials. He remains stood down.
with Adrian Proszenko
Sydney Morning Herald