SURELY it will not even be close.
As the most momentous ballot in the history of the Newcastle Knights draws near, the overwhelming vibe has been supportive of a Nathan Tinkler takeover.
The Knights board have endorsed his privatisation proposal.
The Once A Knight Old Boys have given it their blessing.
Former players like Andrew and Matthew Johns, Paul Harragon, Mark Sargent, Steve Simpson and Tony Butterfield are all for it.
So too are Newcastle’s only premiership-winning coaches, Mal Reilly and Michael Hagan.
Prominent businessmen and former board members Mark Fitzgibbon and Garry Murphy reckon it is a no-brainer.
The founding fathers of the Knights, Leigh Maughan and Michael Hill, just wish Tinkler had been around when the club was launched 23 years ago.
And Minister for the Hunter Jodi McKay – no great fan of the Knights’ current administration – has been a vocal Tinkler advocate.
Yet despite widespread acknowledgement that a self-made billionaire can provide the financial security the Knights have craved since their inception, there are obviously still some members who doubt whether private ownership is the right direction.
Hence the full-page advertisements that appeared in this paper several times last week, and again today.
Whether the campaign, organised by a vocal minority, is gaining any momentum may not be known until the historic extraordinary general meeting on March 31.
But suffice to say that, behind the scenes, the Tinkler group are growing apprehensive. Tinkler needs a minimum of 75 per cent of members to vote in his favour.
So if slightly more than one in four vote to retain the status quo, his bid will be rejected.
It is worth remembering that in 2006, when South Sydney members voted to hand Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court control, the new owners scraped in with a 75.8 per cent majority.
A mere 32 votes decided the outcome – 2988 voting in favour of the bid and 954 against.
The Knights have an estimated 3000 voting members. The anti-Tinkler faction needs at most 750 votes – possibly fewer, depending on how many abstain.
Exactly what the naysayers are concerned about is a moot point.
Their ‘‘defend our kingdom’’ advertisements have touted the so-called ‘‘Patrons’ Trust’’ as a viable alternative to Tinkler’s deal.
The Patrons’ Trust appears more a figment of someone’s imagination than a financial lifeline.
Knights officials seem unsure whether it is a loan or a donation, and at this stage only one man, Andrew Poole, has publicly confirmed his involvement.
Apparently there are other benefactors out there willing to kick in a few million dollars, but we can only guess at their identities.
And while Tinkler has been asked to make iron-clad, legal assurances about his bona fides, it does not appear the Patrons’ Trust – whoever they may be – has been subjected to the same scrutiny.
Certainly the cash injection the Patrons’ Trust are offering – a rubbery $6thmillion to $10thmillion – is a drop in the ocean compared with what Tinkler is prepared to invest.
And, strangely, there has been no mention of the Patrons’ Trust in previous lean times, when the club needed to borrow money from Tinkler, or the Newcastle Jockey Club or the Gold Coast Chargers to pay their bills.
If the Patrons’ Trust is such an attractive alternative, why did it appear on the horizon only at the 11th hour?
Patrons’ Trust aside, the intransigents are also concerned that members will lose their ‘‘entitlements’’ if the club is privatised.
But what rights do members have anyway, apart from the right to elect a board every second year, who then proceed to operate as a secret society, releasing information when it suits?
Did the board, for instance, consult members before they hired Brian Smith, endorsed his 2007 cleanout, then ultimately sacked him?
Did the board consult members before the 2007 rebellion that forced then chairman Mike Tyler to resign?
Did the board consult members before they went cap in hand to Tinkler in 2008, asking him for a $500,000 loan to help them through a cashflow crisis?
Did the board consult members in late 2008 when they stopped paying their stadium rent because they were in dispute with the State Government?
Did the board consult members before rezoning their season-ticket options for the 2011 season?
Does the board even publish minutes of their monthly meetings?
The answer to all those questions, of course, is ‘‘no’’.
Other than voting every two years for a board who then adhere to a code of confidentiality, the only entitlement members have is to turn up at an annual general meeting, usually to whinge about such big-ticket items as the volume of the Ausgrid Stadium loudspeakers and the price of pies and beer on game day.
Traditionally only a few hundred members bother attending the AGM.
Under Tinkler, there will still be a members club.
Members will elect a board and will vote two directors on to an advisory board that Tinkler’s representatives insist will have significant input into the club’s future direction.
But the doubters ask: ‘‘What happens if Tinkler walks away after 10 years?’’
The answer to that question is surely that the Knights will be debt-free and in a far stronger financial position than they are now.
Tinkler is not in this to make money.
He won’t even break even, given that he intends to wipe the club’s $3million in accumulated losses and then direct all profits back into the club. There are no strings attached – Knights chairman Rob Tew made sure of that, and should be commended for his vigilance.
Knights members should not be viewing the March 31 ballot as a choice between a billionaire bogeyman and a priceless asset handed down from generation to generation by the Novocastrian faithful.
They should consider it an IQ test.