The Newcastle Knights this week became the latest in a long line of sporting organisations to be privatised. So as you wrap your club scarf around your neck and grab your season ticket, ask yourself this: who owns your team?
Just hours before Newcastle Knights members scrambled over each other to throw their club at billionaire Nathan Tinkler, I found myself in a lively conversation with a member.
This young woman was the member every football club dreams of.
In her mid-20s, she is University educated and holds down a well-paying job. Her Dad cultivated her love for the Knights, may even have bought her first membership and she no doubt has plans to take some youngsters of her own to cheer the red and blue some day.
She has a long life ahead of her of buying season tickets, nice cars, clothes, homes and groceries. Just the sort of person that makes multinationals sponsor sports teams.
I imagined she’d be one of the first to support the new cashed-up, highly-competitive version of the Newcastle Knights that privatisation promised.
Instead, she said to me; “I just don’t know if it’ll be the same.
“The thing I loved is that when the team won, I’d won.
“I’d come to work and say ‘we did it’.
“It was my team, and it won’t be my team anymore. It’ll belong to someone else.”
Ten hours later, 97 per cent of Knights members had voted to hand control of their club to a single fan, who has guaranteed $100 million over the next decade.
She voted yes, too.
But I’ve thought a lot about her words since.
Can a club belong to a community if it is owned by an individual? Do fans of privatised clubs have less equity?
Every sports team has bills to pay. And many different people pay those bills.
For the Mayfield Alleycat under eights, Mum pays the costs.
For many clubs, from Chelsea FC to the Newcastle Knights to IPL cricket, a rich individual forks out.
But there are myriad other models.
Public floats, community memberships models and public/private partnerships too complex and numerous to chronicle here.
Then there are media deals. Many, if not most, professional sports competitions in the world would not exist if not for the money flowing from media companies as a result of broadcast deals.
Ponder for a moment who is bankrolling those teams, and who is bankrolling yours.
Do you truly think they own the team?
Do they possess your team any more than the guy next to you, top to toe in team colours, screaming abuse at the officials in between tooting on his vuvuzela?
Legally, there may well be an owner of the logo worn above the heart on your team’s jersey.
But the value of that brand is determined by a thousand factors – not least of them – you.
The sponsors on board, the players in action, the visiting team, the fans in the stands, the TV company that broadcasts the game, the commentator who gives his opinion, the coach with his post-match comments.
Each of these “owns” your team. Each contributes just as the man in the corporate box signing the cheque does.
Every element is vital. No players, no team. No fans, no team.
Look at the Gold Coast A-League team. Is a super-rich owner with a high-class team all that’s required?
No. Too few fans combined with a soulless playing environment and a pay-for-view broadcast deal and you have a brand without value.
The Gold Coast United model is the perfect example of how the business of sport differs so much from the broader business world.
Many is the billionaire businessman who has made his fortune in coal or cardboard, only to find himself ill-equipped to market and profit from the trade of hopes and dreams, hearts and minds.
It’s like this, dear fan, you may have a mortgage but your house is your home – not the bank’s.
Your company pays for you, but it doesn’t own you.
And no matter who is paying the bills at your club, whether it be the guy selling raffle tickets for the meat tray, an academy-award winning actor, or a bush front rower-cum-mining magnate, he does not own your club.
Ownership is in the hands of everyone who contributes, everyone who cares for those colours.
Take any element away, and you can lose the lot.
You own your club and come Monday, your team’s result, is your result, like it or not.