Long read: know your A-League owners
Almost 40% of A-League ownership structures are Australian, with another seven nationalities making-up the rest18 October 2018 | Bonita Mersiades
In the media conference following the vote of FFA Congress, outgoing FFA Chairman Steven Lowy once again spoke of his ‘fears’ regarding “foreign interests” in football. It is a familiar theme. He wrote about it in 2017 and has returned to it regularly ever since.
The premise appears to be that, because six of the nine Australian based A-League clubs are foreign owned, Australian football runs the risk of serving the interests of its foreign owners, rather than what is in the best interests of Australian football.
We trust that the owners of the A-League clubs are astute enough to realise that the competition is only as good and successful as the sum of its parts, and that includes their ‘supply chain’ of talent, which starts with grassroots development, as well as the performance of national teams at all levels.
Nonetheless, Steven Lowy's regular reference to these issues piqued our interest in just who does own the A-League clubs, who are the people behind them, the nationality of their owners and the directors.
The first point to note is that governance and ownership of the clubs are largely opaque. As we have noted previously, to the extent that some of the clubs may have a Board, only a handful bother publicising who makes-up their Board. This was one of the big opportunities missed in the recent report by the Congress Review Working Group, in terms of overall governance reform measures needed in football in Australia.
We must also place an important caveat on what you are about to read. It is based on the latest available publicly available information only, and then only information that is relatively inexpensive to access via the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), the Hong Kong companies register, or online free searches.
Western Sydney Wanderers
Western Sydney Wanderers shares are held by WSW FC Holdings, of which Paul Lederer is the equal majority shareholder with Jefferson Cheng of the Philippines with 36% each, and Glenn Duncan with a 28% share.
Lederer inherited Primo Smallgoods from his uncle, and Frank Lowy’s friend Andrew, in 2004 and sold it 2015 for $1.45 billion. Lederer has substantial and diverse interests in property, manufacturing, financial investments and community development. One of the Lederer Group’s partners is Centuria Capital Group which was announced as a new sponsor of the club on Monday. Lederer was born in Hungary. His share is held as PEJR Investments.
Cheng is also the owner of Davao Aguilas FC in the Philippines, the only team from Mindanao taking part in the Philippines Football League. Gary Phillips was coach of the team for a short time. Last month, Davao Aguilas entered into a ‘partnership’ with J.League club Bellmare Hiratsuka, and have announced the development of a training facility in Davao. His share in WSW FC Holdings is held via JDC Investments.
Cheng is also involved with the International Goalkeepers Academy, run by former Socceroo Jim Fraser. Cheng is described in some reports as having “deep pockets … and also a football heart” and is a long-time supporter of the Philippines Under 16 and Under 19 national teams. An architect by profession, he is a shareholder in the Philippines Airport Ground Support Solutions through the Cheng Group which is involved in transport and aviation services. Amongst other things, Cheng and other family members were indicted by the Philippines Department of Justice over an alleged controversial bidding process involving Manila Airport. The charges were subsequently dropped. Cheng’s father, Cheng Yong, was named as a ‘special envoy’ to China by President Duterte in May this year.
New Zealand born Glenn Duncan's company, Pirtek, has the naming rights to the Wanderers’ home stadium at Parramatta. Pirtek is an Australian company, founded by Duncan’s father, which provides “fluid transfer solution products and services.” He was born in New Zealand. His shares are held under the company name Onekawa, a suburb of Napier where Duncan was born.
Lederer, Cheng and Duncan are directors, along with David Slade, a former Westfield executive. The Company Secretary is Paul Perosin who is the CEO of the Lederer Group.
- Australia: 64%
- Philippines: 36%
Wellington Phoenix is operated by Welnix Limited which in turn is owned by Investnix Limited.
The two directors of Welnix are Wellington business men and philanthropists, Rob Morrison and Gareth Morgan. Morrison is the sole director of Investnix.
Morrison is the former Chairman (until 2017) of Kiwibank, and former chairman and chief executive of Hong Kong-based investment bank CLSA, now Chairman of HRL Morrison & Co, an infrastructure and property asset management company, and a Council member of the Asian Corporate Governance Association. Rob Morrison owns 100% of Investnix. Morrison is a philanthropist, chairing a foundation named in honour of his late brother and heading Pure Advantage which investigates opportunities for ‘green growth’ in New Zealand. He is the sole director of Investnix which is the holding company of Welnix.
Once an employee of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, Morgan founded economic advisory firm, Infometrics, as well as Gareth Morgan Investments (which was sold to Kiwibank in 2012). He is also co-founder with his wife of the Morgan Foundation which conducts research and investment activities into social investment, conservation and public interest research. He is also a mad keen motorcyclist and has written several travel books.
- New Zealand: 100%
The significant majority (88%) of Sydney FC shares are held by Strada Investments, a residential development and funds management company founded in 2005, of which the UK born Scott Barlow, Chairman of Sydney FC, is the sole shareholder. Barlow is married to the daughter of Russian billionaire, David Traktovenko, who is acknowledged as having provided the financial backing for Strada Investments' interest in Sydney FC. Barlow and his wife live in Sydney’s most exclusive street in Point Piper (along with Frank Lowy and Paul Lederer).
Traktovenko was co-owner of Zenit St Petersburg from 2002 to 2005 with oligarch Vladimir Kogan, whom he knew from his Board position with state-owned banks, Promstroibank and Vyborg Bank (both now part of VTB Bank). In 2006, the club was purchased by Gazprom (now a FIFA sponsor).
While Sydney FC has been counted by Lowy (and us previously) as a 'foreign-owned' club, it is not in any legal sense; and in light of the facts that Traktovenko owns a house in Mosman, that his daughter and grandchildren live in Australia, and that Strada Investments has had a financial interest in Sydney FC since the A-League's inception, it is difficult to sustain an argument that Traktovenko does not have an interest in Australia. For all these reasons, we have counted Sydney FC as locally owned club.
The remaining 12% ownership is held by:
- Denwol Pty Ltd – Philip Wolanski’s company: 0.2%
- Gail Crismale – wife of Board member, Michael Crismale: 0.9%
- LFG Investments – the Lowy Family company: 10.5%
- Aquarius Equity – which is co-owned by Glenn Duncan of Western Sydney Wanderers: 0.5%
In addition to Barlow and Michael Crismale, the other directors are former FFA National Technical Director, Han Berger, Rebel Sport's Erica Berchtold (who is also a former director of Western Sydney Wanderers) and John Simeone from Qantas. The Company Secretary is Sydney FC employee, Adam Santo.
- Australia: 100%
Tony Sage has been the sole owner of Perth Glory since 2009 via a private company Okewood, with the shares held by the Sage Family Trust.
Sage's experience includes corporate advisory services, funds management and capital raising, particularly in the mining sector, for more than 30 years. He is also Executive Director of Cape Lambert, Chairman of Cauldron Energy and Fe Ltd, and a non-executive director of European Lithium Ltd. He is also a director and sponsor of the Perth Fashion Festival. Perth Glory is a ‘family affair’ for Sage with his wife, Lucy, and two of their three children also working at the club. Sage says he has spent more than $130 million on football in Western Australia in the 12 years he has been involved in the club, and that he is a passionate West Australian and football fan.
UK born Sage is the sole director of Okewood Pty Ltd, and is also the Company Secretary.
- Australia: 100%
Newcastle Jets was purchased in 2016 by Ledman Investment Hong Kong, which is wholly owned by Martin Lee (or Man Tie Li) of The Ledman Group.
The Ledman Group is a high-tech LED signage manufacturer headquartered in Shenzhen, China with market capitalisation of more than USD$1 billion. Another Ledman Group subsidiary, Ledman Sports, is a ‘Strategic Partner’ of the Chinese Football Association, and the owner of Shenzhen Ledman football club which plays in League 2 in China. Ledman is also an official sponsor of the Super Football League in China and Portugal’s Segunda League (second division), and has gained control of Brazilian second division football club Nacional based in Manaus. Ledman Sports also partners with a player agency owned by Fábio de Souza.
In 2016, Lee also announced a €25 million investment in Infront Sports and Media. Infront is owned by Chinese company Wanda (a FIFA sponsor), and is headed by Sepp Blatter’s nephew, Philippe Blatter who previously worked for ISL.
Another part-owner of Infront/Wanda is China Media Capital which also shares a 13% ownership stake in Melbourne City's City Football Group.
The directors of the Newcastle Jets are Lee and McKinna (born UK). The Company Secretary is Jets' employee, Nicola Browne.
- China: 100%
Unlike other A-League club entities which are private companies, Melbourne Victory is a Limited public company. It was not possible to obtain a list of Melbourne Victory's shareholders which number more than 50 but, unlike other A-League clubs, their financial statements are available on the ASIC website.
The two most prominent and well-known investors are the Chairman, Anthony Di Pietro, who is the Group CEO of LaManna Premier Group and Mario Biasin, the founder and director of Metricon Homes. Both men are directors.
Other directors include John Harris, Joe Mirabella, Richard Wilson, John Dovaston and Company Secretary, Caroline Carnegie.
- Australia: 100%
Of all the clubs that Lowy had his comments lasered towards, it is the City Football Group’s Melbourne City. Yet its ownership is also one of the more transparent amongst the A-League clubs because of the rules in place in the English Premier League.
The holding company is MHFC Holdings which is fully owned by City Football Group.
City Football Group is jointly owned by the Abu Dhabi United Group (87%) and state-owned investment companies China Media Capital and China International Trust Investment Corporation (CITIC) (13%). China Media Capital has a 5% share in Infront/Wanda (see Newcastle Jets also).
Melbourne City’s directors are Khaldoon Al-Mubarak of the UAE, Martin Edelman of the USA, Ferran Soriano of the UK (born Spain), and Simon Pearce of Australia (born UK).
- UAE: 87%
- China: 13%
Central Coast Mariners
Central Coast Mariners has a one dominant shareholder, Englishman Mike Charlesworth with approximately 82% of shares, and 11 smaller shareholders.
The second highest shareholder is Done Nominees (ie. Ken Done) with 7.2%, while the remaining ten shareholder entities make up the remaining 11%. The remaining shareholder entities include McKinna Investments and Lawrie McKinna (<1% each), and former Executive Chairman Lyall Gorman with just one solitary share. The recently deceased former Australian of the Year, Ian Kiernan, also held 2% of Mariners' shares.
The club's directors are Charlesworth, Kevin McCabe, co-owner of Sheffield United, and Company Secretary, Kathryn Duncan.
- UK: 82%
- Australia: up to 18%
Brisbane Roar’s ownership via the Bakrie Group is well-documented. We wrote about it here (with empathy for David Gallop at the time). The holding company is Singapore-based Cronus Sports Management, a subsidiary of Pelita Jaya Cronus of Indonesia, a Bakrie family company.
The four directors are Rahim Soekasah (Chairman), Helmi Rahman who is the Managing Director of Cronus Capital, Faisal Arief Subandi, Chief Financial Officer of one of the Bakrie entities, and Brisbane lawyer, Guy Dunstan who is also Company Secretary.
- Indonesia: 100%
Although Adelaide United Chairman, Piet van der Pol, has worked in football for 15 years, it is unlikely that he has ever been in roles where he earned enough to be able to afford an A-League club license and its subsequent operational costs. He is on the record as saying that the investors include two other Dutch nationals and one Chinese national, including one of the Netherlands’ richest men, but they wish to remain anonymous to “protect their privacy”.
It is unclear why Adelaide United is not transparent about their ownership, and it is almost as mysterious that Adelaide United fans seem happy not to know.
Van der Pol is President and CEO of Qingdao Red Lions in Shandong province, a club he formed with Rob van Eck and former Adelaide United Board member, Bruno Marveggio in 2016. The club's naming rights sponsor is Fortschritt, a German company listed in Hong Kong, that manufactures agricultural machinery.
Adelaide United is owned by Australian Football Opportunities Pty Ltd which in turn is owned by the Hong Kong registered Global Football Opportunities. The directors of Australian Football Opportunities are van der Pol and Adelaide accountant David Rasheed, while the sole director of Global Football Opportunities is the 47-year-old van der Pol.
The initial shareholder and first director of Global Football Opportunities was Rob van Eck who, like Martin Lee, has substantial business structures in Shenzhen, China, where he has been based for 13 years.
Amongst other things, van Eck is the Managing Director of Smart Brands International, which is involved with the development, production and worldwide distribution of high quality consumer goods under major retail brands including Goodyear, Dunlop and Grundig.
He is also involved with a number of similar companies, including Shenzhen Intra Industry, a trading group that exports products for retailers worldwide, working closely with Dutch family-owned trading company, EDCO, and Shenzhen ATR. EDCO is owned by the Adriaanse family, and the head of SZATR is Mr Yu Li Dong. Van Eck, Jacobus Adriaanse and Yu were co-directors in a company known as Jaliro International (made up of the first two letters of each of their given names - Ja Li Ro) which is also involved in import/export.
Van Eck established Global Football Opportunities in October 2017; van der Pol was made the sole director in February this year. Via Adelaide accounting firm, Tilbrook Rasheed, van der Pol established Australian Football Opportunities in February with the initial transfer of shares to Adelaide United taking place on 7 March.
The directors of Adelaide United are van der Pol and Brisbane lawyer Freeda Stevenson, while the directors of Australian Football Opportunities are van der Pol and David Rasheed, who is also Company Secretary.
Netherlands: 75%; China 25%
Ownership share by nationality
Eight nationalities share ownership of current A-League clubs:
|Nationality of owner(s)||%|
|United Arab Emirates||8.7%|
|England / United Kingdom||8.2%|
One point worth noting is that, of all the directors, only three are women (Central Coast Mariners, Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC). Of those three, two women are also the Company Secretary (Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne Victory), and the third is having her second stint as a director at a second A-League club.
The A-League clubs have a long way to go to meet the minimum of 40% women Board members, as required of FFA and the state federations in the CRWG report.
Comparison with English Premier League
Precise ownership of English Premier clubs is not always clear-cut. However, where, for example, some owners have dual nationality, we have based ownership on the known principal place of residence, rather than birthplace and where there are a number of minor shareholders, we have assumed that proportion to the dominant shareholding. There are ten nationalities that comprise current Premier League ownership, with local ownership being roughly similar to local ownership in the A-League.
|Nationality of owner(s)||%|
|England / United Kingdom||37.5%|
|United States of America||19%|
|United Arab Emirates||4.3%|
Information in relation to Adelaide United was updated on 31 October 2018.
a-league, a-league owners, epl