The final whistle in Sunday’s Canterbury Cup decider brought a full stop to the Wenty Magpies spectacular late season surge, and in doing so it concluded the Parramatta Eels 2019 football program.
Significantly, it also brought us closer to the end of Bernie Gurr’s tenure as Parramatta Eels CEO. Make no mistake, having such a highly credentialed individual in charge of our club has been critical in both righting the ship and establishing the platform for the Eels future.
In acknowledging Gurr’s contribution to the Eels, I wanted to begin with a personal reflection.
I first met Bernie Gurr towards the end of 2016. It was at an open venue event at ANZ Stadium. Eels members had been invited to tour the stadium to check out their seats for the upcoming two seasons at the temporary home ground.
I was just one of many people with questions for the former Roosters chief, from why he had accepted the role with the Eels to his opinion on a range of football topics.
It would be the first of countless occasions that would see him available for interaction with supporters.
Such occasions weren’t accompanied by any announcements or fanfare. If the Eels were involved he’d simply be there.
I would soon bump into Bernie at a day of junior rep trials at St Pats, Blacktown. With multiple trials against our Panthers neighbours, and two fields in action, this event typically attracts crowds that would be the envy of the Titans NRL team.
That day, Bernie had positioned himself in a throng of people trying to watch two games at once. Despite the sun glasses and casual attire, it was impossible to miss the new head honcho, and again he answered a plethora of questions from the Eels faithful who had spotted him.
From there I can barely think of a junior rep match day or lower grade event at which I didn’t see him. He most probably missed those that clashed with Eels NRL matches, but then again, all of us would.
Awards evenings, corporate events, selected training sessions, open days and fan events, NRL match days – you’d expect to see him there and of course you would.
Sometimes I’d express a strong opinion to him. Other times we might just talk about the game we were watching. We didn’t necessarily see eye to eye on everything – after all, a supporter and an administrator see things from different perspectives.
However, and this was important to me, I usually felt that I had a better understanding of other considerations after speaking with him. And one more thing, I was left in no doubt about his love of rugby league and his passion about his role.
Over the course of his tenure, Bernie sat down for comprehensive interviews with TCT. He didn’t hesitate when asked. You can find those here and here. We had questions that we wanted to put forward on behalf of supporters and were afforded extended time with him.
And so to his achievements.
Bernie Gurr became Eels CEO at what was a difficult time in Parramatta’s history. At the recent Ken Thornett Medal, Eels Football Board Chairman, Sean McElduff, paid tribute to Gurr being the right CEO to meet the challenges faced by the club. The turmoils of 2016 had exposed the lack of stability and professionalism in the club and the consequent lack of trust from corporate partners, members and supporters.
That changed after Bernie’s arrival.
As McElduff later communicated to supporters, Gurr’s “contribution was not only vital to achieving the platform we have today but I am sure will be viewed even more favourably as we head towards a period of growth for our Club.”
Consider where the club is heading via Bernie, the Football Board and a Strategic Plan.
We need to begin with the phenomenal turn around in operational costs.
Back in 2016 the club was haemorrhaging money. Operational losses stood at $12.6 million. By 2017, these had been reduced to $9.8 million, and by 2018 they had dropped to $3.6 million. The 2019 figures are not yet available but the improvements during Gurr’s administration are staggering.
Obviously, the most crucial consideration for supporters is premiership performance. On that front, we now have a football team which has reached the finals for two of the last three years.
Gurr made the point of acknowledging the strengths of the football program when he arrived, but the stability has since proved crucial. When things went south in 2018, the club stayed calm. The support of Arthur, and the review into how performance could be improved, were both critical in returning to finals footy in 2019.
Besides facing the multitude of challenges resulting from the salary cap dramas of 2016, and the impact of having the League’s Club placed in the hands of an administrator, I consider one of the greatest achievements of Gurr’s administration to be a logistical one.
The near seamless transition to Bankwest Stadium was a truly remarkable achievement for Gurr and his management team. From the temporary transition of membership tickets to ANZ Stadium, and the subsequent transfer and allocation of seats back at the new Bankwest Stadium, it was a monumental task.
There were always going to be issues surrounding the design of Bankwest, with the corporate facilities displacing Thornett Stand patrons from their long held seats. That change was completely out of the club’s hands but the record crowds and corporate hospitality revenue are testimony to how the club has made the changes work.
And on the subject of crowds, the continued growth of memberships to record numbers during such turmoil has been an another success story.
The future? A new $35million Centre Of Excellence at Kellyville is part of the exciting platform which has been provided for the team. The players, from the NRL to elite juniors, will be preparing in state of the art facilities, a far cry from Richie Benaud Oval and a significant step up from the demountable sheds at Old Saleyards.
I hope that Bernie Gurr looks back on his time at the Parramatta Eels with great fondness and tremendous pride.
When he first took on the CEO role, Gurr had a strong vision about the potential of the club. He leaves his position with key metrics – finances, facilities, corporate support, memberships, attendances, junior development and team performance – indicating that the Eels are firmly on the path to becoming a rugby league powerhouse.
Thank you Bernie Gurr. I know that you will give credit to the people in your management team, but when all is said and done, the Parramatta Eels have been the beneficiaries of your preeminent administration.
May you enjoy great personal and professional success in your future.