Wealthy backers not always good for teams

Owen GlennThe history of sports clubs being owned by wealthy backers has not always been a happy one.

The Warriors rugby league club is in crisis again, partly because of the public bickering of its two billionaire owners, Eric Watson and Owen Glenn.

Watson had been with the Warriors since 2000 and has done the club a lot of good.

He bought it when it was in financial trouble, after it had been owned by a combination of Tainui and a Graham Lowe/Malcolm Boyle consortium.

I particularly liked Watson’s gesture in 2002, when the Warriors qualified for the NRL preliminary final against the Cronulla Sharks. He and major sponsor Vodafone bought 15,000 tickets and gave them away to anyone with a New Zealand passport.

It meant that in the Sharks’ home town, the Warriors had the bigger fan presence at a critical game.

Glenn got involved in 2012.

He has helped Christchurch earthquake sufferers and supported Millennium Institute, New Zealand Hockey and Auckland Business School. But often his charity comes with a caveat – look at how messy his dealings were with New Zealand First.

Judging from his recent public utterances, he is not doing the Warriors much good.

Sports teams have always attracted wealthy benefactors.

Bob Hope and Danny Kaye bought American baseball teams, Paul Newman owned an auto racing team. Ted Turner owned the Atlanta Braves. The America’s Cup has attracted mega-rich men such as Thomas Lipton, Alan Bond, Larry Ellison, Ernesto Bertarelli and our own Michael Fay.

Sometimes a famous owner really helps a club.

Elton John was a proud and helpful owner of Watford football club, which climbed from the fourth to the first division in seven seasons after he bought it. Russell Crowe’s association with league club South Sydney has been positive.

By contrast, part-owner Gareth Morgan has had too much to say about the Phoenix football club.

The most laughable image was of him in a tracksuit on the training pitch “assisting” coach Ricki Herbert. As if Herbert, who played in the 1982 World Cup and took the All Whites through two later World Cup campaigns, needed the benefit of Morgan’s football knowledge!

Morgan spoke of wanting the style the Phoenix played changed, where their home ground should be and why he was sick of the Yellow Fever supporters. He has helped the club financially, but that assistance has come at a price.

The IPL, the Indian Twenty20 cricket league, seems to have a whole host of over-the-top owners who are absolutely hands-on in every aspect of the running of the club.

But back to the Warriors. I agree with Ivan Cleary’s analysis.

Clearly, who coached the Warriors in 154 games from 2006-2011, was asked what was behind the club’s latest implosion and was uncharacteristically forthright.

“There’s been two coaches sacked in the last two years, a bunch of people leaving the club,” he said. “I wouldn’t be worrying too much about what we see on the field. Blind Freddy could see it’s management.”

Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah has run the show since 2005. Maybe it’s time there was a new man in charge.

If the club was running well, we’d hardly have heard a peep from Watson and Glenn.