I’m a bit of a fan of “what ifs…” and have published a few on this page over the journey. Given the current state of things, there may be a few more over the next little while.
Of course, there are those who like to only deal in reality, and that’s completely understandable, but sometimes, these weird “what ifs…” can come in handy.
Sure, some of the thoughts I’ve had have been a little morbid, and if I floated the scenario of a virus basically shutting the world down a few months ago, plenty of you would have scoffed.
Actually, I didn’t see it panning out like this – my scenario was more about a flesh-eating disease, or a zombie apocalypse and how they’d affect football. Imagine a player taking on zombie-like characteristics during a game? You’d wanna make sure you’re adept at breaking tackles, huh?
“Free kick… biting!”
But a virus emanating from China and shutting down all non-essential services… it wasn’t that far off.
Anyway, one set of circumstances begets another, and here we are, with most of us trying as hard as humanly possible to stay away from each other (unless you’re Cam Zurhaar, Nick Larkey or Mark Blicavs, apparently). The impacts of this situation on the game are huge, with entire football departments being stood down and players staring significant pay cuts in the face. It’s an industry-changer, with the 2020 season in limbo as we wait to see whether the social isolation imposed on the community will have the desired effect, or whether stupid people will even adhere to it.
However, even if things go as well as could be hoped, we are looking at months of the 2020 season lost, and with that comes millions… tens of millions… perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars gone as well.
The AFL has floated seeking a loan of $500 million to get through this crisis. And after standing down 80% of its own workforce, you have to wonder – is this enough?
On Fox Footy’s new daily programming, which is really just a bunch of footy blokes sitting around yapping about the game, Nick Riewoldt floated the idea of temporary private ownership of AFL teams. The idea was met with the negativity you’d expect, and there is a good reason for it.
Firstly, no affluent person worth their salt would invest tens, or hundreds of millions of dollars in a “temporary ownership” of anything. Rich people don’t do rentals.
Secondly, AFL fans have long memories. We remember Dr Geoffrey Edelsten and his ownership of the Sydney Swans. There is a very good reason the AFL would like to continue operating in the same model it currently exists in. The league has full control of the clubs. Club Presidents are troublesome and outspoken at times, but nowhere near as difficult as a belligerent owner would be.
However, given where things are headed, and with job losses everywhere, the AFL may not have a choice in the matter. The league may have to bite the bullet and start considering whether they start going to bed with some of Australia’s movers, and the world’s shakers.
Private ownership of AFL teams is, once again, on the table.
It’s better than seeing clubs fold, right?
Sides like West Coast, Hawthorn, Essendon, Adelaide and Collingwood are all more financially equipped to fight through this than other clubs. But what of Melbourne? What of Gold Coast? North Melbourne? Fremantle? Port? The Bulldogs? And particularly St Kilda? What of these teams who were struggling to keep cash flowing in even when the league was running at an optimum level?
How close will they go to falling over?
What about if there were people of good character that could help? What if there were multi-millionaires or billionaires that could step in, buy an AFL club that is struggling and change the way the team is run? Would the AFL be tempted to abandon its stance on private ownership if the other alternative is the dissolution of said team?
But I can hear the arguments – why don’t these blokes just donate the cash to save their clubs, anyway? Why do they have to own them? Well, who says they haven’t in the past? And here we are again, with the clubs hoping these people dip into their own pockets and pull them out of the fire.
How much of your money would you be willing to donate, over and over again to keep a club afloat with no real benefit to you? Would you donate once? I did, in 1996 when the Hawks were going under. I gave all I could (which wasn’t a lot at the time), but if I was being asked to financially prop up the club every few years, my willingness to do so would probably decline rapidly.
But if you offered me the chance to buy in, and be part of the club – invest in the club and have a stake in the ownership of the team – now my interest is piqued a little.
So, I understand why a billionaire wouldn’t just pour money into a club he/she cannot control. It’s akin to pouring money down a drain. If you’re going to invest, you want a return on your investment; whether that be financial, on-field success, or the opportunity to follow your passion. There’s got to be something in it for these people as well. They’re not charities.
But right about now, the AFL is close to needing charity. Maybe it is a beggar that can no longer afford to be choosy.
Let’s have a look at some of the teams with more than affluent supporters who could really help out in a time of need, and maybe make a pretty prudent purchase in the process.
And for argument’s sake, let’s put an arbitrary price tag on the clubs of anywhere between $500 million for the richest (West Coast), to $200 million for those struggling the most (St Kilda, Gold Coast). These are obviously ballpark figures as we’ve not really had the teams valued at any stage in recent history. In looking at the NBA, the New York Knicks are worth US$4 billion, the Lakers are worth US$3.7 billion, and the Golden State Warriors are work US$3.5 billion. This is a much smaller market with a hell of a lot less opportunities to make coin. $500 million might be a bit rich, but let’s stick with it for now.
Lastly, this doesn’t have to necessarily be a sound financial decision for these people – owning a sports team is as much a status symbol as it is an investment. Simply put, there are just not that many successful national sports franchises around for sale. These could be passionate people wanting to help, but also wanting bang for their buck for a change. If they are passionate about the game and genuinely want to help, the AFL may have their minds changed out of necessity. Or clubs could go to the wall.
But who would jump on board?
ST KILDA – LINDSAY FOX
NET WORTH – US$2.2 BILLION
The transport magnate has been a life-long Saints supporter, and with billions behind him, the purchase of his beloved Saints might be a lot more appealing than throwing cash down the well that has been the Saints’ money pit for the last forty years.
Imagine the backing of a man with the connections of Fox? A private jet for interstate travel would have to be on the cards, wouldn’t it? Or at least a nice semi-trailer…
Perhaps Fox wouldn’t be willing to shell out all the cash to purchase the team, and would like to organise a few fellow Saints to buy in. Eric Bana has a net worth of $40m, whilst Shane Warne has a reported $50m to his name. Are you telling me they wouldn’t want to be a shareholder in the Saints?
Prior to this shutdown, the Saints were reportedly in $12 million debt, and with clubs expected to lose around $15m this season due to the forced hiatus, they are in dire need of a white knight. Would the league open the door for Lindsay Fox to back up one of his trucks and dump a load of cash on the doorstep?
What if it had to decide between that and allowing the Saints to slip into footy history, not with a bang, but with a whimper?
CARLTON – BRUCE MATHISEON OR ANTHONY PRATT
NET WORTH – MATHIESON – AU$910 MILLION. PRATT – US$8.6 BILLION
So, what you’d like here is a bit of a bidding war, right? Mathieson is a Carlton die-hard, and is often one of the people referred to as a Carlton “powerbroker” when people speak about those working behind the scenes. Anthony Pratt’s father, Richard loved the Blues with all his heart. He even gave Chris Judd a well-paying job as an environmental ambassador at Visy which just so happened to demand very little in the way of actual work from him. I reckon Judd still couldn’t tell you what that job entailed. It would have been a three-line job description.
But it was all above board, right?
Would either of these blokes be willing to part with half a billion dollars to own a storied club like the Blues? Rather than sitting on a board, continually compromising and pouring cash into a club where others get to make the boneheaded decisions, this could be the opportunity to take control of something they love and turn the Blues back into a powerhouse? No more political posturing. No more factions and a divided board. One man making the calls. One decision. One direction.
There has always been big money behind the Blues, but those with the coin would much rather be in control of a situation than sit behind the scenes, pulling tangled strings.
If either of these guys were in charge, you think the Blues would’ve split with their VFL-affiliate today?
We’re back with Ep10 of the Mongrel Punt AFL podcast.
🎧 An actual review of Round One
🎧 The league shutdown and ways forward.
NORTH MELBOURNE – KERRY STOKES
NET WORTH – US$2 BILLION
North would be another of the bargain buys due to their relatively low membership and assets, and with Stokes a lifelong North Melbourne supporter, the club would be more of a passion project for him.
Assuming there is passion?
Some North supporters have lamented that Stokes has never really invested in the team, and they have speculated that he may be more one of those supporters who kind of supports the team because everyone has a team, but doesn’t really care too much. Would actually owning the team be cause enough for him to invest a little more time and passion?
The one thing that ownership has over being part of a board is control. Have you ever been a part of a committee? It’s bloody painful – a bunch of people with their own agendas trying to sway the opinion of others… and around and round they go.
As an owner, Stokes may receive advice; he may even solicit it from some he respects, but at the end of the day, the decision would remain his. It would be his club to run, and if he ran it back to a prosperous position, it would only enhance his reputation as a shrewd businessman.
And if he needed a minor party to be more the face of the ownership group, Ricky Ponting is apparently worth around the lazy $65 million these days. Would he be interested in being a bigger part of the Shinboner Spirit than just as a well-known supporter?
WESTERN BULLDOGS – DAVID SMORGON (AND FAMILY)
NET WORTH – AU$2.8 BILLION
THE HOLLYWOOD MAFIA
NET WORTH – $360 MILLION
David Smorgon’s resigned reaction when confronted with the task of saving the Bulldogs AGAIN, told a significant story. He’s been there, done that, and I’m not sure he is up for this fight this time around. The Dogs are nowhere near an affluent club, despite winning the flag just four years ago.
They’re the team of the mighty west, but they’re battlers, and unless someone steps in, will remain so for the foreseeable future.
Smorgon bleeds red, white and blue and is the logical option as the person best positioned to purchase the club. He has poured his heart and soul into the Dogs and you know he’d do it again. Given the opportunity to buy them, you know he’d take it and he’d run them like a business.
However, for entertainment value, let’s look at the second option, as I reckon this would elevate the profile of the team and take the perception of the Western Bulldogs from that of a working-class team to a bit of a glamour team in the league.
And yes, I know it is a bit of fan-fiction, but hey… if I told you three months ago that the whole league would be in danger of collapse, you probably would have scoffed at that too. Play along – sometimes it’s fun to be a little less serious.
In Chris Hemsworth (net worth of US$130 million), the Dogs would have their own marketing tool sitting in the owner’s chair. This is Thor – God of Thunder! They play at Marvel Stadium! It all fits perfectly. Maybe he could even convince his buddy, and avid sports fan, Matt Damon (net worth of US$160 million) to buy-in. Buying a US-based sports team is way beyond the capacity of Damon, but in Australia… things could be possible. He likes sports. He’s been to a Dogs game. That’s a good enough connection for me.
Imagine the Bulldogs – the blue-collar team of Victorian football being elevated in the eyes of the world due to superstar owners? Chris could even allow his brother to tag along (net worth of US$26 million) and be part of the clique. What a shame Liam split from Miley Cyrus (Mrs Mongrel told me that) – her net worth of US$160 million would have come in handy.
I don’t know if the AFLW players would respond better to Miley than Susan Alberti, but I’m pretty sure the AFL players would. Maybe her and Liam are still on good enough terms that he could have a word in her ear?
COLLINGWOOD – THE EDDIE MCGUIRE CONSORTIUM
NET WORTH – (ED) AU$55 MILLION. CONSORTIUM (BILLIONS)
Uh oh… Ed can’t afford the Pies by himself. Only 55 million dollars? I could make that if I stayed in my current role for… crap, 550 years.
Still, Ed is going to need help, but answer me this – can you see him being second banana to anyone else when it comes to the Magpies? Could he be a minority owner of the team he loves so dearly? And if he decided that he was happy to fade into the background, who would bankroll the project AND have the balls to keep Eddie on a leash when required?
Well, when you’re looking at what could work, you should probably look at what DOES work.
Who currently has the capacity to pull Eddie into line?
Nine Entertainment seem to have a bit of a hold on the old Ed, given they have employed him over a number of years in both their current incarnation, and Fairfax Media, who they merged with in 2018.
If Ed could drum up enough support for the Pies to be owned and operated by Channel 9, it may be a decisive blow in the future of TV Rights to broadcast the games of the club. Imagine the Magpies trotting out to play a game with the Channel 9 logo splashed across their banner, the backs of their jumpers and on the clothing of everyone associated with the club?
The AFL would hit the roof, and it would put Channel 9 in a very advantageous position should the network choose to bid on the AFL rights in a couple of years.
Again, a pipe dream, with devastating consequences should it go through, but it could be worse – imagine if Ed’s other employer bought the Pies? Rupert Murdoch! The Pies are already the most hated team in the league – all the lefties would go nuts if he became even more heavily involved in footy.
GOLD COAST SUNS – TONY COCHRANE
NET WORTH – CAN’T FIND IT BUT I AM GUESSING IT WOULD BE SIGNIFICANT
NET WORTH – US$4.09 BILLION
This is the other bargain buy, given their low membership and non-existent record of success.
Cochrane is one of the more outspoken club presidents in the league (which is saying something considering the league contains McGuire and Jeff Kennett). If there is any doubt around his passion for the Gold Coast Suns, just listen to him speak. He is driven, focused and would love nothing more than to steer the Suns to success the way he did the Australian Touring Car Championships when he turned it into the V8 Supercars (he bought the promotional rights for $52K and it was most recently valued at $330 million… a tidy profit).
Cochrane has the potential to be the AFL’s problem child at the ownership level, but in regard to the Suns, he might be the lesser of two evils (that’s just a saying – I don’t think he is evil and I LOVE his passion).
Clive Palmer is the other option. You don’t want to get into a bidding war with the big fella, and given the stellar job he did with his ownership of the Gold Coast United Soccer Club, I am sure the AFL would welcome him into the fold.
Remember, when Palmer continued to breach the conditions of FFA rules, his licence to compete in the A-League was revoked.
Are you barracking for Tony Cochrane yet?
Palmer then went on to attempt to form his own soccer league – Football Australia, but it never took off.
The scary thing here is, if Palmer got his nose out of joint, he could very well start a rival competition to the AFL, with private owners ready to pay players what they think is commensurate. Given the AFL landscape is about to crash back to reality in terms of what teams can afford to pay their players, Clive might start looking a little more attractive to cash-strapped AFL players.
AFL Super-league, anyone?
So, there are a few examples. As I said, this might be a flight of fancy, and if the AFL can move quickly to effectively stop the bleeding and secure the future of clubs, I’m all for it.
However, if we reach a stage where all else has failed, and several clubs are staring down the barrel of insolvency, could the league look to invite some wolves into the henhouse?
And who would you prefer sitting at the helm of your club if it happened?