By Roy “The Professor” Masters:
THE Sydney group interested in buying a quarter share of the Broncos might have a greater chance of forcing News Ltd to either sell their controlling interest or privatise the club, according to the leader of the frustrated syndicate seeking to sell.
Brisbane businessman Tony Scanlon, who holds 11 per cent equity in the Broncos, said attempts by himself and fellow minority owners John Geaney (10 per cent of shares) and Craig Davison (4 per cent) to effect ownership and cultural change at the club had failed.
Scanlon, one of the Thoroughbreds group of Brisbane businessmen who have supported Broncos players for nearly two decades, said of the interest from the Sydney group: ''It isn’t ideal - the new shareholders should be from the south. Ideally, the new ownership should be from Brisbane but they may have more influence on News Ltd than we had.
‘‘We have made many offers to News Ltd to sell their majority share [68 per cent] or buy us out. They don’t seem to know if they want the club or don’t want the club.’’
Scanlon refused to identify the potential buyers of the 25 per cent held by himself, Geaney and Davison. Lachlan Morgan, a Sydney employee of hedge fund KIS Capital Partners and son of Broncos founder, the late Paul ‘‘Porky’’ Morgan, ruled himself out as the mysterious bidder. ‘‘It’s not me,’’ he said. ‘‘I wish it was.’’
Scanlon also dismissed any immediate plans to join Davison, the front man in a group seeking to win a NRL licence to run a second Brisbane team from 2013. ‘‘Not at this point,’’ he said.
However, resentment with the Broncos over the marginalisation of the ownership group and the Thoroughbreds has motivated interest in a new team seeking a licence to base itself in Brisbane’s south and play at Suncorp Stadium.
Scanlon said: ‘‘When we bought into the Broncos, we sought to be agents of change. We believe in the players and the coaching and training staff but not News Ltd. They haven’t been kind to us as shareholders.’’
Some of the venom is directed at former CEO Bruno Cullen, who has vacated his post but stayed on the board of the Broncos Leagues Club.
‘‘He didn’t have a high regard for us,’’ Scanlon said, partly blaming Cullen for News Ltd’s stonewalling of attempts by the trio to gain a Broncos directorship.
''We’ve asked for a seat on the board, and can’t get a look in. Any institution, such as a bank like NAB, would have treated shareholders with 25 per cent more politely than we’ve been treated.
‘‘When we bought the shares, we hoped to get to 51 per cent, and they wouldn’t allow us, so we offered ours to sell, and they said no.’’
Cullen rejected this, saying that while he could not speak on behalf of News Ltd, his understanding was the group had an obligation to make the same offer to the other 7 per cent of shareholders as they did to News but did not do so. ‘‘Their offer didn’t go through me or the board but my understanding is their approach was inappropriate and not the proper procedure,’’ he said. ‘‘They are also way off line comparing themselves to someone holding 25 per cent of equity in a big bank. They are three separate individuals who didn’t buy their shares together and hold them in companies.’’
Cullen also accused the trio of not acting in the interests of the club at the last annual meeting when 75 per cent of votes were required to update its constitution. ‘‘We wanted to bring the club out of the dark ages with our constitution, and they used their 25 per cent to vote it down.’’
Cullen also rejected any notion News Ltd would sell its shareholding. ‘‘They are pleased with their part ownership, and want to hold on to it for the forseeable future,’’ he said.