The Teenage Challenge

Finally the FFA have done something right taking the A-League licence off of Newcastle Jets owner Nathan Tinkler.

Although once again their actions expose more problems than they answer, and Tinkler may well be right when he states “this could get ugly.”

The FFA took back the licence of the club when Tinkler failed to pay the players wages for the third time. He then placed the club into voluntary administration. So which fact was it that forced the FFA’s hand?

If it is three strikes in relation to wages being paid, other A-League franchises could be in danger of losing their licences too. Perth Glory has to this writer’s knowledge twice failed to pay wages to staff on time; although all monies owed were subsequently paid. With the club citing the fine imposed by the FFA for salary cap breaches as the reason staff have had to be laid off, and other staff have been forced to accept salary cuts, a late payment could well be on the cards again in the west.

The other problem that the FFA’s taking of the licence off of Tinkler raises is, as stated previously, whether the franchise model is in fact the way to go in terms of club ownership in the A-League. The first CEO of the FFA, John O’Neill, assured everyone close to the game that after extensive research that this was the model that would work. Ten years in, one has to question the validity of this decision, as the system has allowed people with no passion for the game to hijack it for their own publicity. These millionaires using football to play at being billionaires.

Tony Sage owner of Perth Glory and Nathan Tinkler have been the two owners of A-League franchises most vocal to bleat about how much money they have ploughed into their franchises for what they claim as “no return.”

Firstly how much is the publicity these two men have garnered from their involvement in football been worth commercially? Can you put a price on that national television, radio and newspaper coverage? If you had to buy that airtime it would cost millions.

Then one has to ask how many doors have been opened to them in their business dealings because they own a football club? How often have they used this ownership as leverage to wine and dine key business associates? Can one put a value on that? It would appear that here too they have both had a good return on their investment.

One has to then question their knowledge of football, as buying a Franchise would have to be a long term investment in Australia, and one that you would expect to lose money in for several years; a large part of the money that incidentally both are able to right off against their other business interests from a tax perspective.

Many other clubs around the world lose far bigger sums of money a year than these two clubs, yet the owners take it on the chin. Why? In most cases because they knew they were going to lose money, and the amount lost is small relative to their wealth. Others see the value in their involvement in football and the money lost is a good investment in the opportunities that arise because of that association.

It is amusing to read some of Tony Sage’s supporters citing that Perth Glory’s demise started in season one with original owner Nick Tana. This is a very unique perspective. Sure Steve McMahon may not have been the best appointment as coach in that inaugural season yet they made the final of the pre-season cup and when he left the Glory were sitting fourth on the league table. Alan Vest who took over steered the club to fifth place and missed out on the inaugural finals by just two points. Ironically Newcastle Jets claiming fourth. One has to wonder how the history of the club would have changed had they made the finals that year.

Nick Tana sold the club to the FFA and they tightened the budgets and restricted spending until they found a buyer. The model they had was for coach Ron Smith to bring in young Australian talent and build the team up to be one of the top clubs again, but they shot him in the foot when new owners were found by selecting these talented young players for national sides and not allowing the club to postpone fixtures. So once they sold the franchise their long term plan was abandoned.

The truth is when the new owners came in they were, like all A-League Franchise owners, going to struggle as none of the clubs own the most important asset any club has, their ground. Glory’s situation was made more complicated by the fact that the previous owner Nick Tana owned the licence to the ground, having underwritten the initial redevelopment from an AFL oval to a football ground.

Football clubs need far more revenue streams than just the team on a match day, and stadia give clubs the chance to make money. For a start they do not have to pay rent, they can rent out space for functions and they can make money from catering and bar takings.Also their offices are based in the stadium so another rent saving. One of the reason’s the MLS has turned around is that every club now has its own stadium and is not having to share with another sport.

Despite all the hype about crowds around the country, only loyal fans are continually clicking through the turnstiles, just as they did in the NSL. As clubs have looked to shave costs the football experience has suffered. Melbourne Victory are still the benchmark club in the league, on and off the park. Mainly because of the stability they had in the initial stages of the competition and the work done by Ernie Merrick and Gary Cole. Only the Mariners kept key people involved for so long. These two men laid the solid foundations for Melbourne victory to build on. It is no coincidence that they are the most viable A-League franchise, imagine how wealthy they would be if they owned their own ground!

The A-League standard has been on the decline the past four seasons and as a result it is becoming increasingly harder for the club owners to lessen their debts let alone make money.

The FFA face Perth Glory trying to sell their licence as well as Brisbane Roar, and the Central Coast Mariners. Give Western Sydney another year and they too may be in this select group; having had to trim costs and release players on contracts negotiated in the main by the FFA when they set up the club. Throw in Newcastle Jets into this group and four of the nine Australian A-League clubs want out of the league.

With the Asian Football Confederation wanting all national competitions to be stand alone in the next few years; that is not run by the game’s national body. The FFA face a myriad of problems.

To add to these woes the A-League is not marketed. Fox run commercials for games, clubs do adverts in local newspapers leading up to a match day, however the league itself is not marketed at all by the FFA.

The A-League is two seasons away from entering its teenage years. Years that tend to be fraught with angst, introversion and rebellion. Steering the Franchises through these difficult times is going to be a real challenge and will require leadership of the highest quality. David Gallop has yet to show the strong leadership he did at the NRL, and one feels that this may be because he is not as familiar and comfortable with the code. It could well be that football simply faces so many different challenges because of its young re-incarnation. Is he the man to steer the game through this turbulent time, or does the game need a football person to put these men looking to use the game for their own gains in their place, and reshape the future?

One thing is for sure a strong clear direction needs to be taken and fast, even if it differs from the one originally seen as the right path.

The Teenage Challenge
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