Swinton Lions would have ‘died’ without taking the bold step to rebrand the club next season, says chairman Andy Mazey.
The Championship side confirmed last week that they have launched an application with the RFL to be known as Manchester Lions in 2020, and Mazey has launched an impassioned defence of the move, saying the club’s future rested on trying to break out of their bubble and attract new fans and new sponsors.
He told League Express: “It was either do this or face the club dying. When we took this club on two years ago, it was two days away from a Bury FC situation: being gone forever.
“Two years of hard work have straightened things out, got things stable and we’ve got a great team on board – but this vehicle, Swinton as a club, is unsustainable in its current guise. We need a club that will be able to stand on its own two feet.”
Mazey concedes he understands the frustrations of some Swinton supporters, who have responded negatively to the news of the rebrand. However, he has urged them to get behind the club’s plans – and says they are not abandoning their Swinton heritage whatsoever.
“I understand the concerns, completely. But in my view, it will only be Manchester Lions to new people, whereas it will always be Swinton to Swinton people,” he said.
“People can come along, sing ‘Swinton’, we’re still the Lions. Nothing changes in that regard. It’s just a brand name and we’ve tried to be as sensitive as possible with it.
“We’ve thought long and hard about this; we’ve got directors who are lifelong Swinton fans, and even our club historian is big on the Swinton heritage, but he’s come to the conclusion we have to change something. We’ve been out of the town for three decades and it couldn’t go any further in its current guise.”
Mazey says he is hopeful of tapping into the attention Rugby League will get in Manchester when the men’s and women’s finals of the 2021 World Cup are hosted in the city.
And he also said that the Lions had to be proactive now in anticipation of what many believe will be a drop-off in central funding for lower-league clubs when the new broadcast deal is negotiated in two years’ time.
“The opportunities that come with the Manchester name in a host city for World Cup finals are huge,” he said.
“We’re not pushing a door that won’t open, we’ve an opportunity for progression and growth in Manchester. With the name being Swinton and playing in Sale, it’s just a mismatch in terms of putting some roots own. If we don’t do something now, then we’ll be in a precarious position come 2021.”
Mazey added that the Lions now hope to put down long-term roots in Sale – having explored options in Manchester itself but deciding to instead remain at Heywood Road.
“Previously we’ve just rocked up and hired it, but the club will now operate out of Sale, and our team will be there,” he said.
“We’ll have a development officer there starting soon, and we’ve listened to the supporters who say that Heywood Road is the one place that’s felt like home since we left Station Road.
“We’ve looked at other places, but the transport links aren’t great and they’re not as conducive to watching Rugby League. This is a cracking Championship venue, Sale are keen for us to stay and our long-term vision is here.
“We’ve had former sponsors who carry the name of Manchester that are already looking to get back involved. The commercial potential is there to tap into, and I’ve got a very capable board who will do that.”