Every day there seems to be another sensational story about the turbulent relationship between business and sport. This week a couple of the billionaires involved in football’s A League are scrapping – in one corner is the Chairman of the FFA and Westfield founder Frank Lowy and in the other, thirty-something mining magnate Nathan Tinkler – owner of the Newcastle Jets (and NRL club, the Newcastle Knights). Lawyers are primed for action on both sides.
It makes the news when sport and business collide – one of my favourite examples is the (now jailed) Ponzi scheme conman Allan Stanford who tried to buy world cricket, starting with the England team.
Despite these episodes of disharmony and disaster (and there are plenty more) most of the time sport and business work together collaboratively and for mutual benefit. Sport depends on the support it gets from business and businesses can get tangible benefits from being associated with sport.
A recent example that we worked on was the NZ PGA Pro-Am Championship at the Hills golf club in Arrowtown. The NZPGA (which looks after NZ’s club and touring professional golfers) teamed up with Sir Michael Hill’s business empire to create a unique event that included celebrity and fee-paying amateurs playing alongside touring professionals. The tournament is run by a joint venture company and has attracted a solid list of sponsors and corporate support in its first year. It also has government backing as the premier event on the local golf calendar. The Hills have high hopes that this tournament could become the “Masters” of the South Pacific.
Apart from collaborating on funding and organisation of events and teams, is there more that sport can learn from business? We think that there is. For instance – why is it that New Zealand golf administration is split between the NZPGA (who look after pro golfers) and New Zealand Golf (who look after everything else)?
Businesses in the same situation (and unencumbered by the Commerce Act) would try and “consolidate” by merging these two organisations. The larger NZ Golf would take over NZPGA. Members of both would reap the benefits of the economies of scale and efficiencies from having professional and amateur golf under the same umbrella – allowing the game to speak with one voice to SPARC, funding agencies, sponsors, broadcasters and the public.
Much of NZ golf’s success has been at an amateur level (the men’s Eisenhower Trophy team in 1992, Danny Lee as the youngest winner of the US Amateur and Lydia Ko and Cecelia Cho as world #1 women’s amateurs). It would be great to see this success replicated by our touring professionals. Local club members would feel a stronger connection to Kiwis on the pro tours if they were flying the NZ Golf flag internationally. Pro players would benefit from having access to the resources of the whole golf community. As golf fans, we’d love to see that.