Hunter Sports – A tale of two codes

Doubts about Tinklers financial ability began to come alive on march 17th, 2014,  when it was reported that creditors were looking to begin seizing assets, and speculation was rife that he would be unable to renew the bank guarantee.

On March 21, 2014, Westpac bank advised the Newcastle Members club that the existing 10.52 million in the bank would be handed to the club if Tinkler did not meet the deadline to renew it. The Members club have given Tinkler until the 25th to renew the guarantee or the club would begin proceedings to buy the club back for $1 as stipulated in the original privatisation agreement.

A spokesman for Westpac confirmed the bank guarantee would be honoured if called upon by the members club.

‘‘Given this situation relates directly to a current Westpac customer, the Tinkler Group  (not the Knights directly), we are limited in what we can say,’’ he said. ‘We have been in discussions with the Tinkler Group for quite some time about existing exposures with Westpac which includes a bank guarantee to support the Newcastle Knights. The bank guarantee is still in place and like any guarantee, if it is called upon Westpac will honour that.’

On April 1st, 2014 it was reported that Tinkler had failed to meet his deadline to renew his $10.52 million bank guarantee, and the Members Club and the NRL were having talks on the best way to proceed forward.

On April 4, 2014 it was reported that talks were ongoing between the NRL and Hunter Sports over the ownership of Newcastle.

On May 17, 2014, The NRL announced it was taking measures to protect players and officials who had not been paid by Nathan Tinkler owned Hunter Sports  League had of club services, Tony Crawford was quoted by the ABC as saying

“The actions of the Tinkler-controlled Knights towards players and staff are completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. The NRL will be assessing all options to bring this to a resolution in the interests of the Knights, staff, our fans and the broader Rugby League community.”

On May 23rd, 2014, Tinkler officially handed over control of the Knights saying that it had saved the club from liquidation, raised spending, and investing more than $20 million in the club. He called for new ownership to be settled quickly and blamed the Newcastle Members Club for stalling talks that were in their 10th week.

On June 14th, 2014, The NRL formally took over the club after negotiations with the Newcastle Members club (who hold 20% of the club under the new structure) and the formation of a new entity, Knights Rugby League Pty Ltd, to hold the assets of the company.

‘‘The Knights will continue to be Newcastle through and through,” Smith said at a press conference at Hunter Stadium on Saturday. “The team will look the same, they will continue to be based in Newcastle and they will represent this region proudly like they have for the last 26 years.

‘‘It’s about Newcastle, it is about the community of Newcastle, and we are going to make that community connection stronger not weaker. The difference is that, financially, they will be one of the top tier clubs in the competition.”

A new board will be formed, comprised of one community representative nominated by the Members Club, two shareholder representatives initially from the NRL, and four independent directors.

It wasnt until May 20, 2015 that the Newcastle Jets were released from Hunter Sports, after Football Federation Australia cancelled their license to be in the A-league after Tinkler placed the club into voluntary adminstration when he couldnt meet player wages..

On June 19, 2015 it was revealed that in parting Tinkler had negotiated a deal for himself and his companies for 5 years of jersey sponsorship and a corporate box, but at the end of its first year asked the Knights if they wanted to buy it back for $100,000 a season.

In September 2015, the sale of the Jets was reported as imminent after it was revealed that Football Federation Australia had been locked in negotiations with Stephen Thompson, the chairman and majority shareholder of Scottish top-flight club, Dundee United. However, in November it was noted that the deal was now on hold after Thompson failed to meet an informal deadline prior to the season starting.

In March 2016, Fairfax media reported that the FFA had lost millions on the Jets, however six potential buyers were reportedly in the offing. On the 22nd, it was revealed that talks with a chinese businessman, Martin lee, had stalled and the search for a new owner was continuing. On the 25th, it was revealed that one of the potential buyers was Hawaiin businessman Jeff Von Schmauder.

In April, 2016, Fairfax media reported that the NRL was hoping to get $20 million from its sale of the Newcastle Knights.

On June 15, 2016, the NRL announced it had set up a divestment committee to begin the sale process for the Knights. The day before the FFA had announced the sale of the Jets to Martin Lee for a reported 5.5 million.

In September,  the ABC reported that there were at least half a dozen potential buyers looking at the Knights.

On November 17, The Telegraph reported that the NRL  will continue to bankroll the club into the future after failing to attract a suitable buyer willing to stump up more than $10 million to potentially secure a sale. Despite attracting interest from as many as 17 different parties, several from overseas, who were involved in the bidding process, none of them met the criteria according to NRL CFO and Head of Club and State Services Tony Crawford.

“We have always said any new ownership of the Knights must be good for the club, good for the community and good for the game,” Crawford said. “Based on that criteria, and despite receiving offers from a number of interested parties, the NRL has decided to retain ownership of the Knights until such time as the divestment criteria is satisfactorily met.”