In what is surely a pointer to the future
for other rugby league clubs, the Manly Sea Eagles are now in majority private
ownership as a result of marketing company, Penn Sport, acquiring a 40% stake in the football club.

The stake matches the 40% held by
Max Delmege since June 2004, and makes the Sea Eagles the only club with
majority private sector and minority football club member ownership.

While the Broncos, Cowboys and Storm have
private ownership – with News Limited being a major shareholder in all three –
the Sea Eagles have set the pattern for the future in my view.

The news that the Sea Eagles are getting a
further significant cash injection is a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for
the northern beaches club. Just a few years ago the club was on the verge of
financial collapse. It now has an assured future.

It’s interesting that the majority
private/minority football club structure is in line with what Russell Crowe and
Peter Holmes a Court have proposed for the South
Rabbitohs.

The NRL sent a clear signal to clubs last
year when it revealed how much each will receive from the new television deal
with Nine and Fox. And the signal was, don’t expect windfall handouts from the NRL.

But private ownership is going to be driven
by another stark reality – the capacity of licensed leagues clubs (i.e. poker
machines) to fund football teams is diminishing; state governments are unlikely
to control their addiction to the revenue they get from gaming machines, and
that just means less money to be splurged on football teams.

But there are hazards associated with
buying a football team. If private sector or private buyers think they can make
an instant profit, the record proves otherwise.

The Brisbane Broncos, with the largest
spectator base in the game, and more high profile players than any other team,
made a profit of almost a million dollars in 2004, but the Melbourne Storm is
believed to be costing News Limited at least several million more than that
each year. And until recently the Cowboys have been a financial drain on News
as well.

Like it or not – and many fans don’t like
it at all – private ownership of football clubs is the way of the future, simply
because increasingly, there is no other way.

Peter Fray

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