By Patrick Avenell

SYDNEY, NSW: Hisense Australia today announced it will be the new major sponsor of the Cronulla Sharks rugby league team, a post formerly held by its rivals LG. This could be seen as a brave move by the Chinese manufacturer of TVs, whitegoods and refrigerators, with the rugby league team suffering through one of its most turbulent seasons last year.

Not surprisingly, Hisense is using this adversity to its advantage, saying in its release to media today that it supports Cronulla’s relaunch and reestablishment, which long-suffering fans will be hoping for in 2010.

“Like the Cronulla Sharks fans who have shown their unfailing support week after week to the club throughout its proud history, Hisense Australia is also here to stay; providing superior consumer electronics to Australian consumers for the long-term future,” said Hisense Australia MD Kevin Ke.

“Our partnership with the Cronulla Sharks cements the start of even greater growth for the brand as we stand on the verge of an exciting future in the Australian market. This partnership is an ideal opportunity to not only increase our brand awareness in New South Wales but to help share the defining moments in the Sharks’ history and support the club as it embarks on a new chapter this season.”

Ke’s point about brand awareness in New South Wales is a good one. Up to now, the Melbourne-based supplier is best known as the sponsor of the Hisense Arena, part of the greater Melbourne Park complex. With rugby league clearly the most popular sport in New South Wales and Queensland, this sponsorship agreement will increase brand awareness in the first and third most populous states.

Whether this brand awareness is all positive, however, is yet to be determined. The Sharks endured a tough season in 2009, finishing second last on the ladder and suffering through a number of off-field incidents. At season’s close, then major sponsor LG Electronics declined to resign. For Hisense’s sake, a season of only on-field headlines would be best.