It was the former co-owner of Perth Glory, John Spence, who coined the very apt phrase that owning a football club in the A-League was ” A billionaire’s club for millionaires.”
Sometimes one has to ask why would anyone want to own an A=League licence? It would appear that very few of the owners thought through such an investment and have come up with a business model that works. Some people will throw up Western Sydney Wanderers as a great operating model but was it really? Having seen the sale document with the amounts spent in certain areas by the FFA, who initially ran the club, they spent more on administrative staff than they did playing staff, and the amount spent on marketing was almost three times more than they advised the other A-League club owners they spent.
Why do owners buy A-League licences? Some out of pure vanity, to say that they own a football club in their business circles. Some to assist them in their business spheres as owning a football club opens doors to business opportunities and individuals that may otherwise have been closed without the club. Some own a club for tax reasons, to run the club at a loss and right off the losses for tax purposes. Others use the club to divert funds from other businesses. Around the world football has been used to make illegal earnings legitimate, they have been used to launder money, they have been used for a number of nefarious activities. There are some who own the club because they genuinely love it and the game.
In the main most fans know the owner of the club they support but rarely ever hear from them. Roman Abramovich would have to be one of the highest profile owners of a club, Chelsea in the English Premier League, but how often do fans hear him say anything to the press? Abramovich is not even the richest of the club owners in Europe, coming in tenth on the rich list. Sheikh Mansoor owner of Manchester City sits near the top of the list with a wealth of around USD$22billion, how often do fans hear him talk to the media? Second wealthiest is Amancio Ortega of Deportivo la Coruna in Spain with a wealth of USD$57billion, again how often does he speak out?
This is the way most fans like their club owners to be. Stumping up the money to make the team competitive, yet keeping quiet. This is something Perth Glory owner Tony Sage would have realised if he truly was a football fan. Yet in his time as owner of the club he has at various times declared his support for four different teams in the media. That is an absolute no-no in football terms, a fan never leaves their team.
Tony Sage has loved the profile that owning Perth Glory has given him. He has loved to speak out about perceived unfair treatment from the game’s governing body the FFA, and for a while that won him fan support. Then his bleating became embarrassing and often lacked foundation, and slowly bit by bit he lost the support of those shrewd fans who understood the way the game is run.
Tony Sage loves to tell everyone how much money he has put into Perth Glory, again a real no-no as far as many fans are concerned. They don’t care. It was his decision to buy the club, it therefore becomes his responsibility to make it work. If he is unable to do that, do not bleat to the fans about it. As far as many are concerned that is his problem and ultimately shows bad management.
Tony Sage was quoted in The Australian as saying “Fans, media et cetera kept telling me over the last few years I needed to take a back seat at the club and I have done that. Hence I have spent more time with my mining commitments. I have spent an average of 190 days overseas in the last couple of years. I have left things regarding the club to other people and we have paid the price.”
So now the debacle that has arisen with the club smashing the salary cap and the current season coming to an abrupt end with the club excluded from the finals, we are led to believe from this statement that it is partly the fault of the fans and the media. Come on Tony, give us a break!
However there is more, Mr Sage went on to say “Now those systems will go in place and there will be at least three people to check every contract, every payment that goes out of the club. That has already been initiated. All I can do now is to apologise to the fans, sponsors and members for my lack of due diligence.”
This all sounds very convincing, but again raises more questions. Jason Brewer who resigned as CEO last week, but who is now being employed we believe at Mr Sage’s mining company, Cape Lambert, said on Not The Footy Show that he spoke to the club’s owner on a daily basis no matter where Mr. Sage was in the world. So who is telling the truth? Other staff say that there is not a single major transaction that goes through the club without Mr Sage’s approval.
Perth Glory do not employ a qualified accountant to work through the complex issues of player contracts and benefits, they have a Financial officer who passes everything to the Chief Financial Officer at Cape Lambert. Yet Mr Sage still insists that he knew nothing about the salary cap breaches and that Mr Brewer acted alone. This would imply that his Chief Financial Officer does not share such issues with her Executive Officer.
If that is hard to believe so too is the fact that Mr Sage allegedly did not know that companies that he deals with on the mining side of his business interests were the ones making third party payments to players. One has to ask why would these companies suddenly agree to make payments to players? The other question is have these payments now stopped?
Once again in The Australian Mr Sage states “I just want to make it clear that all this stuff (payments) came out of our (the club’s) accounts, that’s what I really want to hit home to our members, fans and sponsors. It’s just that he (Brewer) was over the cap and he tried to manage his way out of it. By doing that, he didn’t reveal payments that were made by the club to certain agents. I can categorically stick my hand up … and the FFA does in their statement, that they realised where all this began and ended, otherwise they wouldn’t issue a statement like that.”
Our understanding is that in the deal brokered with the FFA, someone had to held accountable. Jason Brewer as CEO was the sacrificial lamb. If his actions were so terrible and so damaging, why would he now, as is alleged, be working for Mr Sage’s parent company Cape Lambert, and still be a board member there?
The FFA statement did claim that Mr Brewer ‘acted alone,’ yet few honestly believe such a statement. This was again we believe part of the negotiation and allowing others to save face. The truth of the deal brokered was the FFA did not want a court injunction that was going to cost them more money, neither did Perth Glory as with the fine, the whole debacle is believed to have cost close to half a million dollars. The reason so long passed from the end of the hearing before a statement was released was the wording of the agreement needed to be agreed upon, a scapegoat needed to be found, and then there would be no more investigation and no other staff would be dragged into the whole sorry episode.
So did the FFA really say that Mr Sage knew nothing? The fact that the FFA stated that the “FFA will also assist Perth Glory with reviewing its salary cap processes to ensure future compliance.” Showed that they had little faith in the management structures put in place at the club, and ultimately whose responsibility is that? It is believed that the club will have FFA ‘guidance’ for three months.
Many fans have found voice and said that enough is enough, and that it is time for this owner to move on. Tony Sage no longer has the support of ‘the majority of fans’ which he has continually tried to claim. He is going to have to spend heavily next season to try and win back fans in the hope of attracting crowds higher than the close to 6000 who went yesterday. They may well have to print more free tickets than were issued for this game to swell the gate.
There are interested parties out there to take over the licence, but few will pay for a brand that has been so tarnished by an owner who has used the club to keep himself in the limelight. Yet whenever anything goes wrong tries to make out he is the victim.
It is time he took heed of the billionaire owners, employed good staff, paid out contracts when he fires staff and deferred comment to media outlets and let his CEO and the appropriate staff handle club related issues. Why have a dog and bark yourself?
For many the only time they wish to hear from Tony Sage talking about Perth Glory again is to hear him announce he is handing the licence back to the FFA, to focus on what he knows best, the mining industry.