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Apr 10, 2012

Lawyers win in A-League's new stoush

The A-League's latest crisis is not just another battle of wills amongst soccer's billionaire brigade.

Men like Frank Lowy, Clive Palmer and Nathan Tinkler are used to getting their own way.

Palmer blew $18 million on his failed Gold Coast venture and clashed so openly with Lowy's Football Federation Australia that FFA booted him out.

Tinkler has spent $12 million on Newcastle and wants out, too, but in his case the FFA wants to make him stay. Why?

FFA desperately needs 10 teams to get the best possible TV rights deal before the start of next season.

Gold Coast's demise suddenly shrunk the league back to nine.

This may help to explain why a western Sydney team, which failed to get off the ground in the form of Sydney Rovers, has since been fast-tracked into next season's competition.

The team doesn't have a name, any players, a coach, a CEO or a ground, but its sudden theoretical existence took the numbers back to 10.

It may also explain why FFA will bankroll it, at least for the first two or three years, despite declaring after North Queensland Fury folded last year that it was not in the business of owning football clubs, despite Lowy's exasperated recent comment that FFA was "not a bloody bank".

And now comes Tinkler's bombshell announcement that he wants to hand back his licence.

FFA cannot afford to lose another club. It is insisting that he honours his 10-year agreement to 2020.

Will it be able to force him? Will new owners be found? Can FFA find funds to try to temporarily bankroll Newcastle, as it is with western Sydney? Or will it be back to nine teams?

Lawyers are already wigging up, as they did when Palmer and Lowy came to loggerheads.

Significantly, Tinkler will retain his involvement with Newcastle's NRL team the Knights.

His stoush with FFA comes at a time when soccer and AFL are both attempting to claim a slice of the critical western Sydney area previously owned by rugby league.

The ultimate goal, though no-one openly admits it, is domination of the highly competitive football market.

The AFL's 18th team, the Greater Western Sydney Giants, spearheads a clinical AFL expansion which has been allowed a decade and tens of million dollars to work.

The NRL is responding with its own war chest and its own promotional ideas.

The last thing the A-League needs as it prepares to do battle with these two giants in western Sydney is a major problem in another area like Newcastle.

The A-League's western Sydney franchise will provide a crucial bargaining chip when the FFA renegotiate their television rights later this year.

It is hoping to snare a massive deal so that it can provide much-needed funds to the financially struggling A-League clubs, which have combined losses of $27 million this season.

When the A-League was being created it was a hard sell and no-one was prepared to go near Fox Sport's $18 million over seven years.

But FFA now wants to net a deal worth at least $30 million a year that includes a free-to-air component.

FFA might also profit from examining the AFL, whose clubs are all member-owned except the latest two expansion teams.

It's a model that clearly works, and is less susceptible to catastrophes that affect private owners, such as GFCs.

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