THE chances of Nathan Tinkler withdrawing his threat to hand back the licence for the Newcastle Jets are increasing by the day, but if the coal baron is to remain as owner he will have to abide by a new set of stringent conditions demanded by Football Federation Australia.
If the notoriously belligerent Tinkler isn’t prepared to compromise, a new ownership structure possibly incorporating a rival mining magnate, Andrew Poole, could take control of the Jets by the end of the month, and the FFA will then chase Tinkler for a massive damages claim.
April 30, when a number of player contracts run out, is seen as the deadline for the issue to be resolved through negotiation.
Incredibly, what had seemed an impossible scenario just a few days ago – Tinkler backing down and recommitting to the eight-year balance of his licence agreement – gradually emerged as a possibility over the weekend, although it remains far from certain.
It is understood Tinkler made the first move to defuse the situation by making personal overtures to FFA chairman Frank Lowy on Thursday, just two days after his stunning public denouncement of the game, the league and the governing body caused a huge outcry in his home town, where public opinion turned heavily against him.
While Lowy and Tinkler have yet to have a meaning-of-life conversation, it is believed Hunter Sports Group chief Troy Palmer spent yesterday preparing a legal response to the FFA’s initial lawyer’s letter in order to clear the way for a possible rapprochement.
The FFA had sent HSG a legal warning just hours after Palmer fronted a press conference last Tuesday to announce the intention to hand back the Jets licence, and it seems HSG is finally ready to respond.
Indications are Tinkler will be seeking a formal review of his $3.5million acquisition fee, $2.5million which the FFA says is still outstanding, and if the FFA is willing to deal with the matter on a formal basis, he may back down from his threat to stop funding the Jets.
Tinkler has never made a secret of his annoyance that the fee included a commission paid to a consultant, Ken Edwards, who subsequently went to work for HSG, and that he believed his fee was much higher than any other investors paid for other A-League clubs.
Clearly, this is the issue which remains the major stumbling block to a resolution.
FFA head of corporate affairs Kyle Patterson said last night that the role of Edwards had always been known to HSG and that the amount paid for the Jets was the result of face-to-face negotiations between Lowy and Tinkler.
‘‘The acquisition fee was never presented to HSG as a standard amount payable by all A-League clubs,’’ Patterson said. ‘‘HSG’s demand to see commercial-in-confidence information belonging to other clubs shows a stunning lack of business acumen and basic courtesy.
‘‘Making these demands in public brings no credit at all to HSG and only serves to damage all parties involved. It puts a very poor light on HSG in relation to the way the group conducts its business.
‘‘The facts are that HSG negotiated and signed a 10-year licence agreement and now it wants to walk away after 18 months.
‘‘That is no way to do business.
‘‘FFA will hold HSG fully accountable for the binding contract it signed.’’
Despite the strong rhetoric, however, the FFA has left the door open for Tinkler to keep the licence, although the ground rules have changed.
A bank guarantee, similar to that Tinkler had to provide for the Knights, is likely to be sought, while the FFA also wants the Jets to be run by a properly constituted board, possibly including Ray Baartz, who is on the club’s advisory committee.
The continued role of Palmer at the head of HSG is also likely to be discussed.
It is believed Liberal Newcastle MP Tim Owen and George Liolio, a former Jets chief executive in the Con Constantine era, are both set to be used as middle men in an attempt to resolve the dispute. If no solution is found, work is under way for a new ownership structure, possibly involving Poole, Northern NSW Football and a consortium of local businesses involved in the Jets coterie group, the Rangers of 1884.