MAJOR sponsor nib has committed to sticking by the Newcastle Knights, regardless of whether any more games are played in the 2020 NRL season.
nib chief executive Mark Fitzgibbon told the Newcastle Herald on Monday that his company intends to honour its deals with the Knights, and AFL club Richmond Tigers, "in their time of greatest need".
Both the NRL and AFL have been suspended indefinitely because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Health fund nib has been associated with the Knights since the club's 1988 foundation season and has been naming-rights sponsor since 2017. The contract, reported to be worth more than $1 million a year, runs until at least the end of 2022.
"We're taking a long-term view," Fitzgibbon said.
"Hopefully this is a short-term hiccup. We'll obviously be talking to the Knights about other ways we can get brand exposure while there is no football being played. But it's important to say that our sponsorship of the Knights is not just about brand exposure and marketing.
"We believe we're contributing to the community.
"The Knights are our team, representing the Hunter."
Fitzgibbon said he would understand if other sponsors decided to withdraw their support.
"I wouldn't be unsympathetic if some sponsors made that decision," he said.
"We're a big company. We have the capacity to support the Knights through this.
"There might be some smaller sponsors whose work has dried up and they don't have the capacity. It's horses for course."
The Knights will welcome nib's pledge of loyalty at a time when they are facing a multi-million dollar downturn.
The Wests Group insist they will weather the storm better than most clubs, but last week the Knights stood down more than 50 employees, who will be paid up until the end of this month. Even new coach Adam O'Brien and his staff have been told to take unpaid leave.
NRL clubs learned on Monday that they will receive just $2.5 million each from the governing body, should the season fail to resume this year.
The ARL Commission has guaranteed three months' funding for clubs after the latest emergency meeting.
That includes two months' pay for 480 players, to last the next seven months, if the rest of the season is wiped out.
The Rugby League Players' Association will meet the NRL again on Tuesday to accept or reject the deal.
ARLC chairman Peter V'landys remains hopeful the competition can resume in July.