Right now I'm thinking I should have paid more attention during those high school commerce classes. For the life of me I can't remember which economist it was who said the quickest route to fiscal nirvana was tapping up the first billionaire who crossed your path? Come to think of it, maybe it was Anna Nicole Smith. Now there was a girl who worked hard for the money. If ever there was a brutal life lesson for the A-League she was it: a high school dropout from Harris County, Texas, who snagged an oil tycoon, 62 years her senior. Young Anna Nicole must have thought all her prescription meds had come at once.
Sadly it didn't work out that way. We should take note, especially as the A-League's relationship with its own elderly statesman has hit a rocky patch. There's a strong argument to be made that the FFA chief and his minions have taken their eyes off the ball in recent years but that's not what's consuming certain sections of the football commentariat. Not Frank Lowy's long association with the game or his undeniable business acumen, no, it all comes down to cold hard cash.
The octogenarian may no longer be Australia's richest man but why quibble over a few billion? Financing football-specific stadiums, underwriting a few expansion clubs, propping up the existing franchises hardly makes a dent in a net worth of $4.8 billion, right? Sounds like a marriage made in heaven. Particularly so when the A-League is haemorrhaging about $25 million a season. It gets worse. Now, it seems, after squandering its commercial appeal over successive seasons, football's next broadcast deal in 2013 will amount to six complimentary tickets to the Fox Sports Christmas party. No wonder it's tempting to slap on a little lippy and take after the first well-heeled Charlie that comes along.
Lowy of course is a mainstay of the game but so far he has resisted football's siren call to lure him onto the rocks. That hasn't stopped some suggesting the FFA chief finance a rescue package from his considerable fortune. As a plan of attack it seems totally bereft. Times are tough, yes. Action is needed, most definitely. But there is a big danger in thinking an injection of cash is all that's needed to paper over the cracks. If the game is reliant on Lowy's money to bail it out then the league really is doomed.
Of course it's not the first time we've been seduced by the appeal of cargo-cult economics - sitting around in some Harris County equivalent of football irrelevancy waiting for billions to drop out of the sky from a tycoon's private jet. I've lost count of the number of obscenely rich Prince Charmings supposedly lining up with puckered lips to awaken the sleeping giant that is Australian football. The results have been mixed. Sydney FC's dabbling with wealth hasn't brought anything resembling stability or cohesion. Gold Coast United snagged the fifth richest person in Australia but Clive Palmer's empty stadiums are a weeping boil on the game. Exotic stories have been peddled about a Saudi Prince and Indonesian magnate with cash to burn on the A-League. More recently, local sparkie made-good and owner of the Newcastle Jets, Nathan Tinkler, offered a $25 million lifeline.
Kudos, really, to those investors willing to take the plunge when there is next to no chance of turning a profit. But before we sign up for another season of Guess Whose Club's got an Oligarch, it's worth considering alternatives. If the mounting corruption scandal enveloping FIFA teaches us anything it's that there are plenty of people prepared to pimp out the beautiful game. The tawdry spectacle underlines the dangers for football when money becomes an end in itself. It doesn't have to be that way. The game's custodians can honour the integrity of the game and still keep it on a sound financial footing but only if they refocus on the fans. The fact is nothing says ker-ching like stadiums jumping with fanatical support. Engage fans, get them streaming through the gates and wealthy suitors will be lining up for a piece of the action.
There are already signs the FFA is starting to heed the maelstrom of complaint bubbling down from the terraces. A series of well-attended fan forums has seen supporters seize control of the debate. The response to the Season 7 A-League draw has been overwhelmingly positive suggesting someone at HQ is finally listening. The equation is simple enough: build an attractive, exciting and relevant product that brings in the fans and investment will follow. Asking Lowy to simply stump up the cash to get us over a rough spot is resigning ourselves to more of the same.
What we need from the FFA is a vision and plan for the game. In that context the Federal Government's Smith Review is a positive step. What A-League supporters should be demanding from Lowry is not a direct feed to his bank account but a fans-first commitment. Anna Nicole said it best: "Marrying into money was not a good thing for me." Football supporters know the feeling. The lure of easy money can be fatal to the culture of the game. As fans we shouldn't be so quick to sell our affections. At the very least we deserve respect. We require a say. We demand a pre-nup!