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FFA sale of Wanderers gathering pace

1 June 2013-SBS: Greg Prichard

wanderers ffa a-league

Passionate support... Wanderers fans have been a key driver in the club's instant success (Getty)

Football Federation Australia chairman Frank Lowy has scheduled a meeting with Western Sydney Wanderers executive chairman Lyall Gorman to discuss a range of important issues – most notably plans for the club to be sold.

FFA established the Wanderers to fill a sudden gap in the competition, and despite having little time to get off the ground before the 2012-2013 A-League season the club has been a stunning success.

“I’ve got a meeting with the FFA chairman on Monday,” Gorman revealed to The World Game.

“There’s no doubt the FFA’s core business isn’t owning A-League clubs, and clearly there is going to be an ownership transition.

“The caveats around that are to get the right mix of people, with the right commercial and financial backing, and the preservation of what’s already there at the club.

“We just can’t afford to take a risk with this brand, because it’s one of the jewels in the crown. It’s going to be a very careful process to transition it to any new group of owners.

“This club has been built on community engagement, so it’s a process that needs a lot of focus and can’t be taken lightly. You wouldn’t rush into it and risk making the wrong decisions.”

Gorman has steered the Wanderers superbly off the field, just as coach Tony Popovic steered the team on it to win the Premiers' Plate and make the grand final, which it lost 2-0 to Central Coast Mariners.

The Wanderers have qualified to play in the AFC Champions League in 2014.

There is speculation the Wanderers could be worth as much as $20 million in a sale to private owners. There are also suggestions a sale could involve partial ownership by the community, with which the club has connected brilliantly.

But Gorman is not about to paint himself into a corner on such issues and said everything will be worked out after thorough examination.

“All of this is on the radar of the FFA board,” Gorman said.

“It’s not just about money, or how much money, it’s about whose money, and what they bring to the table in terms of preserving and growing the tremendous building blocks that are in place, and which, fundamentally, are built on a very strong community engagement model.

“Whether that can transition into a community ownership model in some per cent form or another requires a lot more examination and analysis to see if there is such a model that is feasible.

“The underlying principle is that this club has always got to be focused on its community.

“Markets tell you your value, and there is no doubt there will be competitive tension around the potential ownership of this club, which will normally lead to some positive statement on value.

“But if someone came and put $20 million on the table today, and in the view of the FFA it wasn’t the right mix, and someone put 15 on the table, or 10, who were seen to be the right mix, then dollars won’t be the only criteria in transitioning the ownership of the club.”

It could end up that the community has a say in the decision-making processes involving the club once the new ownership is in place.

“That’s a possibility,” Gorman said.

“You wouldn’t go and make a blanket statement now, to say that’s going to happen, but the fundamental principle this club has got to continue to be built on is the strong community engagement pillar that’s currently in place.

“It wouldn’t necessarily be a model that required the community to put in equity. It’s about how you continue to work with your community and continue to give them a sense of ownership in the club, and a sense of contribution.

“We’ve just done that again in the last two weeks, with a massive amount of forums in which we’ve listened to our community and checked in to find out what are we doing well, and what can we take to a new level in their view.

“Community ownership doesn’t have to mean hard dollars in equity.

“The club has probably got another year of incurring operating losses before we can grow our financial base, and you’re certainly not going to put your costs of financial losses on your fan base and members.

“One of the questions in all of this is: What does community ownership look like?

“I’ve spoken to some people in the UK with knowledge of this but we have to establish whether it’s workable here.

“Do we need to engage some experts in the corporate finance industry to do some modelling and see what that means? We’ll see. It’s all a work in progress.”

Gorman said that the interest in the club by potential owners was very encouraging.

“We haven’t competitively gone into the marketplace at this stage,” he said.

“But certainly there have been some informal approaches to us to say ‘hey, can you make sure that we’re on the radar when you finally do’.

“The right timing will come with that, but there have certainly been expressions of interest from a raft of sources to say that they’d love to have the opportunity to put their foot forward at the right time.

“I think the interest says that people understand what I like to call the pulse of football in Australia that the area of western Sydney is.

“People use the term heartland, but I think it’s got the potential to be the pulse of football in Australia and I think people see that.

“As long as this club stays grounded and centred on its current vision, values and culture, I think it can be one of the biggest sporting clubs in any of the codes in Australia.

“People are starting to believe that, and we’ve got to continue to drive that.

“The FFA board and the FFA management and myself will continue to have discussions about the best models to put in place and the best way to take it to the market.”

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