BOARD STATEMENT: THE FUTURE
04 September 2019
The board have released the following statement regarding the future of the Club.
Swinton Lions RLFC Board Statement
A Moment In Time Opportunity
As the sport of Rugby League faces seismic changes, particularly with the current broadcasting deal ending in 2021, we are entering a pivotal time in our Club’s proud history. Against this back drop, but with the positive of a home World Cup on the near horizon, the Board has established a clear plan to ensure the ongoing financial stability of the Lions, aligned alongside a firm and realistic ambition to become a consistent Championship status challenger pushing for Super League promotion. However, we can only realise these ambitions by repositioning the Brand and attracting new interest to the Lions.
As previously communicated, the Board had a planned process to consult shareholders, supporters groups and sponsors. However, following phase one of that consultation, some details were leaked to a media outlet which derailed the process. The consultation was not planned in this way, and therefore the Board apologises for the breakdown in the intended communication process. However, all key elements of the Board’s position are now outlined in this release.
Over the past 18 months and under the shrewd management of the current ownership, the Club has recovered from a near catastrophic financial position. Although financial stability has been achieved, this has not been without continued investment from the Board alongside excellent contributions from sponsors and supporter groups. This significant investment of time, money and resources, has been necessary to simply stabilise the club and become competitive on the field, but it is unsustainable over any prolonged period of time.
As Directors we recognise that we have both a legal responsibility to the financial well-being of the Company, as well as a moral responsibility to the long-standing heritage of the Club and its supporters. It is clear that with the highly probable central funding decreases post-2021, a stagnant home fan attendance, and a consistent failure to meet the RFL key funding objectives, that it is imperative that the Board act now to give the Lions not only the best chance of survival, but also to grow and be a force in the game. This decision is most definitely not for shareholder gain, but against the true need to secure a future of the Club and save it from extinction. It is also worth noting that the Board have rejected several firm approaches to merge with other clubs in the immediate past, but these approaches have been rejected because they were speculative and would do nothing to safeguard the lineage of the Lions as a stand-alone historic club.
The Board firmly believe that there is a significant opportunity to broaden the appeal of Swinton by becoming THE rugby league club of Manchester. However, in doing so we have set out to respect the Swinton name, our colours and our heritage, whilst creating a future facing, financially viable and hungry rugby league club – a Manchester club that appeals to a broader fan base and one that we can all be proud of.
Success will not come just by introducing the brand playing name of MANCHESTER LIONS RLFC. The best chance of success comes from engagement with key partners such as tourist agencies, local authorities, educational bodies, other sporting associations and clubs to grow community engagement, participation and attendance. The Board has made good progress in this regard and is already establishing key partnerships that will drive this process.
Furthermore there is the 2021 World Cup, with major games to be played in the Manchester area, which will represent a unique window of opportunity for the Lions to capitalise on increased interest in the sport from spectators, players, sponsors and investors alike.
This strategy is aligned to maximising a significant commitment from the RFL to create a real and measurable legacy arising from the World Cup. Marc Lovering, the RFL Director of Participation and Development, outlined this opportunity in direct correspondence with the Lions. He explained, “The RLWC2021 provides everyone associated with rugby league a once in a generation opportunity to grow the game. I believe developing the game within Manchester (and its surrounding areas) could arguably be the biggest legacy of the World Cup. Both the City of Manchester Council and Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council are World Cup hosts with more activity planned in other Greater Manchester areas.
“The RFL in conjunction with the RLWC2021 Legacy Team is developing a rugby league development plan for Manchester which will have a particular focus on the centre, south and east of the city. That plan will involve all the key rugby league stakeholders in the area delivering rugby league activity under a new umbrella organisation. Significant increase in schools activity, new community clubs and a new playing offer are all in the pipeline.”
Mr Lovering further commented, “Whilst Swinton Lions would be a part of that process I do believe that a newly rebranded Swinton Lions incorporating Manchester in its name would be far better equipped to benefit from the increase in activity in and around Manchester which will include Trafford as a focus area.”
The Club accepts that growing crowd numbers and other off field activity to support the on-field efforts is never easy nor guaranteed. However, this truly is a one moment in time opportunity and the Board are unanimous and fully committed to continuing to work closely with our loyal and passionate fans to ensure that we have a sustainable and successful club. A club for future generations to enjoy.
There have been significant efforts to make the current situation work and even take the Lions back to M27. Unfortunately, and despite considerable exploration associated with the Agecroft site, especially taking into account worrying future central funding implications, a new ground in M27 is looking increasingly unlikely. The Board therefore has to engage an alternative plan, but one which evolves the Lions, and does not end them. Indeed the Swinton Lions will very much live on via the following:-
• The Club’s legal entity will remain SWINTON LIONS RLFC LIMITED
• The RFL official registration remains unchanged under the title Swinton Lions
• Our financial instruments remain unchanged
• We will retain our colours and sensitively align our badge with our heritage
• We will still be THE LIONS
• We will retain our history
• We will retain the same players, staff and Directors
The club therefore remains the same in all aspects, other than the adaptation of a new playing brand name, very much along the lines of the Eastern Suburbs RLFC example in Australia, who retain their original legal and historic identity, but play under the branded name Sydney Roosters
The Lions will also continue to play at Heywood Road, Sale – a stadium with excellent facilities, and one which a great many fans have stated is their favourite ground since leaving Station Road 27 years ago. Note that Sale FC Rugby have a continued plan of improvement at Heywood Road, and these plans align with our own expectations of growth.
The Board have considered supporter feedback regarding brand name options in respect of the playing name. Having assessed these options carefully, we believe the most effective way to reflect the Swinton name is to display it prominently on the badge and keep it highly visible throughout branding. As such the original branding has been changed to the crest below, a sympathetic evolution rather than a revolution. The title “Swinton” remains alongside our year of Foundation (1866), the iconic rampant Lion and our Six “Championship” stars. The 2020 home kit will also see the return of our famous white ‘V’ on blue shirt.
What happens next? Following submission of detailed plans to the RFL, the Board expects to receive approval from the governing body to effect change in the playing trading name of Swinton Lions RLFC to Manchester Lions RLFC for the 2020 season. At a Club Board meeting on 3rd September, the Directors considered all implications and opportunities and voted unanimously to proceed with these changes for the reasons outlined above.
This decision has not been taken lightly, but we are at a crossroads and need to take action whilst there still remains the opportunity to effect the necessary changes. We respectfully ask that all supporters take all the above points into account and come with us on what could be an exciting and successful journey!
The Board of Swinton Lions RLFC Limited.