Perth Glory owner and chairman Tony Sage high-fives fans.
Sporting clubs have long been a passion of the rich and famous, but a wealthy patron can also mean a team gets dragged into the off-field affairs of its owners.
A-League football club Perth Glory is the latest Australian outfit to become embroiled in the affairs of its owner, BRW Executive Rich-lister Tony Sage. On Wednesday, Federal Police raided the club’s offices as well as those of mining group Cape Lambert Resources, which is chaired by Sage.
Federal warrants were also reportedly executed at a number of Sydney and Perth properties associated with Sage.
The raids on Sage’s offices are reportedly part of “continuing investigation” being conducted by the Australian Crime Commission, the Australian Taxation Office and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.
They come after the ATO earlier this year launched an investigation into Sage’s personal tax affairs.
On Thursday, Cape Lambert Resources issued an ASX statement saying that the raids were not related to its business. A spokeswoman for Perth Glory also said the police action was unrelated to its operations.
But the Glory is not the only Australian club to be in the headlines lately thanks to the affairs of its wealthy owner.
The Perth raids came just a week after the two Newcastle football clubs associated with BRW Rich 200-lister Nathan Tinkler’s Hunter Sports Group – the NRL’s Newcastle Knights and A-League’s Newcastle Jets – faced a move by the ATO to wind up their operations over $2.7 million in debt owed by Tinkler’s group.
And while Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe’s beloved South Sydney Rabbitohs aren’t in the kind of peril facing Tinkler’s Knights, Crowe nevertheless announced in November announced he’d be selling his stake in the NRL team he helped rebuild due to personal reasons.
Crowe ranked top of BRW’s top entertainers list for 2012, with earnings of $17.2 million.
In February the A-League withdrew the licence of Gold Coast United following repeated attacks from BRW Rich 200 member Clive Palmer against governing body the Football Federation of Australia, chaired by fellow Rich-lister Frank Lowy.
But local strife pales in comparison to the battles fought in major sports in North America in the past two years, where billionaire team owners have clashed with highly paid players in a series of remuneration disputes that have halted seasons in ice hockey, American football and basketball.
The fact is that most rich people don’t buy sporting clubs to make money – they do it for fun or because they want to be seen supporting their local communities. And they’re doing it more often.
The Economist recently reported that worldwide as the “global army of super-rich has grown, more tycoons have bought sports teams for fun or prestige”.
Take Roman Abramovich, the super-wealthy Russian who owns one of the biggest soccer clubs in England, Chelsea.
Abramovich, The Economist says, buys football stars “like normal people buy Starbucks coffee – eagerly, often and with little regard to the price tag”.
But the distractions wealthy owners can bring is perhaps one reason why the AFL has steered-clear of privately-owned clubs in recent times.
The Sydney Swans was the last privately owned AFL club, operated by Australian entrepreneur Geoffrey Edelsten after its move to Sydney in the 1980s.
Rich people will continue to invest in our clubs, but the question needs to be asked: Do they need to be run more like clubs in the Australian Football League?