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Boom or bust for struggling clubs?

Michael Coutts wonders whether billionaires are creating as many problems as they solve.

Nathan Tinkler (middle)

Like most university students, I despise rich, overly powerful white men. That sentiment only intensifies when the men in question are smug, clinically obese wankers like Nathan Tinkler who ruin sporting clubs. Yet as much as I hate men like him, the sad reality is that professional sporting clubs in Australia need more of them.

For those out of the loop, let me catch you up: Tinkler purchased the Newcastle Jets, an A-League club, in late 2010 at which point he committed to maintaining the club until 2020. After clashing repeatedly with the Football Federation of Australia (FFA), he lost interest in the project and handed back the club’s licence to participate in the competition last week.

Australia has always had a proud sporting tradition. In the past, this tradition has been built on passion and commitment, with individuals willing to sacrifice their time, future careers, and (to some degree) even their health to represent their club and country. The professionalisation of sport changed that dynamic completely. Today, there is only one thing you need to run a sporting club: money.

Thus, for many sporting franchises in Australia the only way to survive is to rely on the financial backing of tycoons and magnates, like Tinkler, who are willing to invest in the club until it becomes sustainable. Given the length of time that this may take, it is virtually impossible for any other stakeholder to prop up fledgling clubs. The question then, is how do we cope with being dependent on obnoxious billionaires for the survival of sports clubs like the Jets?

Most obviously, tighter regulation of ownership structure is required. Instead of owners being given a variety of financing options, such as incremental payment of licence fees or being able to inject funds through loans to the club, owners should be forced to pay all contracts and fees in full and upfront at the time of purchase. If someone like Tinkler buys a club and commits to bankrolling it until 2020, they should have to honour that promise in a legally binding way that doesn’t disrupt the competition and harm the reputation of the code. Under this system, Tinkler’s loss of interest does not ruin the club, because it already has the bulk of funds necessary to continue operating.

Of course, there is a downside. Sporting clubs would become an even less attractive investment than they already are, deterring wealthy backers significantly. Though responsible owners would come forward, they would most likely do so in far fewer numbers. That said, given a choice between a smaller, sustainable A-League and a larger, shambolic competition, I know where my vote would lie. Whatever decisions are made surrounding the ownership of clubs, the interests of fans and clubs should be paramount; being dependent on rich, white men should not mean that they are at their mercy.


Nathan Tinkler (middle)

Michael Coutts is on Twitter:



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