Hopes of a compromise between the Newcastle Jets and Football Federation Australia were shattered today when the Hunter Sports Group released a statement confirming it intended to reliniquish the A-League franchise licence.
The two parties had been privately trying to negotiate a truce but now appear certain to engage in a legal battle, and FFA officials have indicated they will sue Jets owner Nathan Tinkler for more than $50 million for breach of contract.
Today's developments come just hours before a proposed rally of soccer lovers at Hunter Stadium this afternoon.
HSG said in its statement that FFA chief Ben Buckley had rejected a compromise proposal put forward by the club, but the FFA responded with a statement of its own saying no such proposal had been put forward.
The FFA statement ended with a quote from Buckley suggesting the governing body would step in to save Newcastle's place in the national competition: “The region is too steeped in football tradition and passion not to be represented in the A-League."
HSG's statement read:
The Newcastle Jets confirm that following last week’s announcement and attempts at seeking resolution with Football Federation Australia (FFA) that the decision remains to return the Newcastle Jets A-League Licence.
Despite recent inflammatory comments by FFA Management, lengthy discussions between Troy Palmer of Newcastle Jets and Ben Buckley, CEO FFA took place in which the Newcastle Jets proposed options for a compromise.
In relation to the major issues between the Newcastle Jets and FFA that have led to this untenable situation, Newcastle Jets proposed the following:
1. The Newcastle Jets Licence fee be reviewed and amended in line with the fees paid by the owners of Adelaide United. A transaction completed only 2 months after the Jets were saved.
2. The Jason Culina insurance matter be settled immediately with financial liability being shared equally between the Newcastle Jets, FFA and the Player.
3. The Newcastle Jets will invest $250,000 on behalf of all clubs and the FFA to create an independent taskforce to review ownership, financial and commercial models of football competitions globally to make recommendations on improving the sustainability and transparency of the A-League with a view of implementation in the 2013/14 Season.
4. The Newcastle Jets continue with the A-League Licence until 30 June 2020.
Mr Buckley immediately rejected the above proposal. This inflexible stance highlights the inequitable position and ongoing discrimination in which the Jets have been placed over the past 18 months. The FFA’s mindset of being unwilling to negotiate provides a clear impression that FFA does not want the Newcastle Jets to be part of the football family.
Confident of its legal position, Newcastle Jets now welcome and look forward to any forthcoming legal action. Such action will bring transparency and integrity to dealings that the Newcastle Jets have sought throughout its involvement in the A-League.
Whilst disappointed to be pushed into this position, the Newcastle Jets remain proud of its achievements to rebuild the Jets by attracting over 10,000 Members, greatly increasing crowd attendance, securing major corporate support, creation of a Merchandise program that set benchmarks in the A-League and the establishment of a Football Department befitting of a professional code. All elements that were not in place when the Newcastle Jets were saved in September 2010.
As a not for profit organisation, the Newcastle Jets made a commitment to its community, to football and to aspiring juniors in the area. This commitment remains, with further investment in junior development and an elite academy in the Hunter.
Finally, the Newcastle Jets remain committed to working with contracted players and staff to identify new career opportunities.
* The Newcastle Jets apologise for the timing of this announcement before the A-League Grand Final, however a formal response was requested by the FFA's legal team before the close of business today.
FFA responded with the following media statement:
Football Federation Australia (FFA) has today rejected the assertions made by Hunter Sports Group (HSG) in relation to the Newcastle Jets Hyundai A-League licence.
FFA has remained willing to enter formal negotiations and to receive a formal proposal from HSG in order to find a resolution in the best interests of the game in the Hunter Valley.
FFA CEO Ben Buckley reaffirmed this position with HSG CEO Troy Palmer earlier this week.
Yesterday, Mr Palmer informed Mr Buckley that a discussion between Mr Palmer and HSG chairman Nathan Tinkler was due to take place overnight, and that a proposal would be submitted to FFA by lunchtime today (20 April 2012).
No proposal has been submitted and no further contact has been made with FFA.
“HSG embarked on a unilateral breach of contract in the first instance and has given FFA no opportunity to have face to face meeting to take place,” said FFA CEO Ben Buckley.
“We are disappointed that no talks have taken place to resolve our differences. The people of Newcastle and the Hunter Valley, and the Jets’ players, coaches and staff, have a right to feel betrayed by these actions.
“FFA reaffirms its position that it does not accept that HSG has the right to return the A-League licence.”
In response to HSG’s media statement today, FFA provides the following facts;
* No formal negotiations have taken place between FFA and HSG over a settlement of this matter since HSG unilateral announcement on 10 April 2012.
* FFA did not reject the alleged four-point compromise proposal listed by HSG in its media statement. The first time FFA was aware of the four-point proposal was when it received the HSG media statement today.
* FFA did not set a deadline of 5pm today (20 April 2012) for a formal response to FFA legal correspondence. In fact, HSG’s lawyers have repeatedly sought extensions of time to respond to FFA and that these requests have been granted, including an extension to close of business this Monday 23 April 2012.
In relation to the four-point proposal published by HSG, two of the three substantial matters are subject to existing procedures.
“The Jason Culina matter is being heard by an independent arbitrator and it’s right and proper that the matter proceeds in this chamber without interference,” said Mr Buckley.
“The suggestion of a commercial review of the A-League is already a priority for the newly-established Joint A-League Strategic Committee, which is endorsed by the majority of A-League clubs. There’s no need for a $250,000 external review.
“That leaves one matter outstanding, which is the acquisition fee paid by HSG. We have an open offer to enter formal negotiations on this issue, but HSG has repeatedly declined to sit down around the table.”
FFA today reaffirms its commitment to the football community of the Hunter Valley.
“The region is too steeped in football tradition and passion not to be represented in the A-League,” said FFA CEO Ben Buckley.