Lowy must act on owners' gripes
FRANK Lowy refuses to be goaded into a tabloid-sized battle with the human headline, Clive Palmer.
If you want to know what the FFA chairman thinks about the game, you'll have to buy a ticket to Melbourne Heart's business luncheon at Crown Casino next Tuesday. Palmer's unlikely to get a mention by name, but some of the issues he has raised might get an airing.
They need to. It's not what Palmer has said but why he has said it that warrants Lowy's close attention.
Lowy understands he has to start listening a lot closer to what the owners say. Quarantine Palmer from that discussion for now. Lowy attempted to contact the maverick Gold Coast United owner last week. He got brushed. That doesn't mean they won't be talking at some stage. It just means Lowy's focus, for the time being, has shifted elsewhere. But there's a sense of urgency.
Inverse to the optimism surrounding the A-League's bounce-back this season - crowds, ratings and memberships are all up significantly - is the pessimism among those who pay the bills. Lowy recognises the owners are unhappy, which is why he's embarked on a listening tour. Just how unhappy they are might surprise him.
Who underwrites the A-League? The owners do, and it costs them - collectively - about $25 million a year. Last week we estimated those losses at around .135 per cent of their collective wealth. Peanuts. The vast majority of them can easily afford it. Yet they still cry poor, and slash and burn at every expenditure. Why? Because of the principle.
Partly, that's because Lowy - one of Australia's richest men - won't kick the tin. That irks them. And if Lowy won't help underwrite the league, then he should at least give them more control. It's what they've asked for over the past few years, only to be rebuffed. It's what the last two federal government reviews (2003 and 2011) have recommended. Inevitably, something has to give.
The owners have a message: don't just take, give. In a monetary sense, that's a cast-iron guarantee that the next TV deal - due in 2013 - will pay their salary cap. In a structural sense, they want a genuine influence over the way the A-League is run.
Ben Buckley is working on a power-sharing formula, but nowhere near fast enough for their liking and they fear they will get fobbed off.
The owners are right to be sceptical, frustrated and even angry. Hence Palmer's tirade. But he's created the impression he speaks on their behalf and he's the wrong man for such a job.
Palmer moans about spending $18 million over three years, but then boasts that Gold Coast United is an ''insignificant'' part of his business empire. He says he supports the fans, then closes three sides of his own stadium, and imposes a crowd cap. He slams the FFA for lacking football nous, then freely admits he's not a football man himself. Contradictions everywhere. This is a time for clarity, not confusion, nor threats such as Palmer's to fight the FFA to a standstill in court.
Lowy's never going to react to such threats. But he needs to react to the underlying theme. If he believes the owners will be easily placated, he's kidding himself.