The Hunter Sports Group (HSG), owned by mining magnate Nathan Tinkler, have announced that they will not be fielding a Newcastle Jets team in the 2012-13 A-League season, effective immediately, and will return the Jets A-League licence to the Football Federation Australia (FFA).
FFA CEO Ben Buckley said the governing body expected HSG to see out its agreement, through until 2020, and suggested the FFA would take legal action to ensure that happened.
In a statement, the FFA said: “FFA does not accept that the Newcastle Jets have the right to return their A-League licence. FFA expects that the Jets will continue to honour the Club Participation Agreement with FFA, which is for a term expiring on 30 June 2020. FFA also expects that the Jets will continue to honour the playing contracts in place with each of their players. “
Earlier, HSG CEO Troy Palmer said it was a difficult decision but one forced upon the HSG through an irrevocable breakdown in confidence of the current FFA management and its refusal to provide clear and transparent answers about the Jets acquisition fee and a variety of other issues.
“As a keen Jets and football fan this has been a tough decision and I am aware the impact this will have on members, players, coaches, fans and the entire football community,” Palmer said.
“I am particularly saddened for members and supporters who have embraced our community model, which has been accepted in so many areas as a successful and unique way to engage the entire community and build the A-League brand.
“It is also frustrating to have invested so much time, energy and money to save the Jets for the community at short notice and then continually hit road blocks at the FFA.
“It should never be forgotten that when we stepped in to save the club it was insolvent, there were only 500 members, diminishing crowds, minimal community engagement, no merchandise programme and negligible corporate support.
“During the 2011-12 season we believe we turned this around to be seen as leaders in all these areas. Unfortunately, having lost confidence in the FFA management and its ability to find a resolution, it is clear we have no other option.
“It is about removing ourselves from an administration in which we have an untenable relationship.”
A critical factor for the Hunter Sports Group has been the impasse and an inability to have clear communication to discuss the Club’s controversial acquisition fee.
“We have attempted to organise meetings with the FFA to discuss our $5 million acquisition fee, with our only condition being we must be advised what other clubs have paid, if anything, why acquisition fees vary, how much of a success fee was paid to the FFA’s agent and how the money was used,” Palmer said.
“Having rejected our terms on every occasion we had no confidence a consistent and rational explanation for the fee would be forthcoming, particularly after inflammatory media comments from the FFA.”
Additionally, with the FFA’s own report identifying combined club losses in excess of $27 million for the 2012 financial year and projections of similar losses forecast for next year, HSG have doubts over the viability of the A-League in the long-term.
The decision comes after the FFA revoked Gold Coast United’s licence a matter of weeks ago, and announced that they will fund a Western Sydney to make up a 10 team competition next season.
Buckley expressed his dismay at HSG’s announcement.
“HSG has made repeated undertakings to the people of the Hunter Valley about their commitment to building football and helping the community in Newcastle and the region,” said Buckley.
“There are players, coaches, members and supporters who put their heart into making the club a vibrant part of the Hunter Valley.
“Today’s announcement makes no sense for all those people and for the other clubs in the Hyundai A-League. They can rightfully feel let down.”
Buckley said that no grounds existed for the Newcastle Jets to unilaterally walk away from its obligations.
“FFA has held countless hours of discussions with HSG on a wide range of issues affecting the club and the A-League,” said Buckley.
“The issues surrounding the operating model of the league and its clubs were addressed just a fortnight ago when all clubs were shown a road map towards sustainability.
“In addition, the clubs will have a greater say through the Joint A-League Strategic Committee, which has equal FFA and club representation.
“The FFA chairman Frank Lowy and I have made numerous offers to meet in person with Nathan Tinkler. Just two weeks ago a scheduled meeting was cancelled by HSG at short notice.
“However, none of this provides a justification for today’s announcement by HSG or provides any grounds for the Newcastle Jets to relinquish their licence.”
Photo: Darren Pateman