Barlow: Sydney FC on the brink of break even

Sydney FC chairman Scott Barlow talks with Con Stamocostas about the Sky Blues' revenue surge, building a financially viable league, adopting an MLS marquee system and staking a claim as the biggest club in the A-League.

They were runners-up to Melbourne Victory in both the Grand Final and the Premiers Plate last season, but Sky Blues Chairman Scott Barlow, insists that his club is the number one team in the A-League.

Barlow, the son-in-law of the club’s owner David Traktovenko, admits the club probably shares that tag with their fierce interstate rivals and the club that did pick up both pieces of silverware last season.

“In many respects we are the number one club and in many respects we are the benchmark,” the 39-year-old Barlow said.

“But I have to say Melbourne Victory in some areas have set the benchmarks as well. I’d say we are the two biggest clubs.

“In everything we do our goal is to be the number one club in the country. We had a successful season last season but we want to go one further this year, and everyone is focused on trying to make that a reality.”

Over the years the harbour-siders have haemorrhaged cash, losing millions every season. But with the signing of Italian superstar Alessandro Del Piero (2012-14), and the turnaround in on-field performances under Graham Arnold, Sydney are on track to climb out of the red.

“In the last three years we’ve nearly tripled our revenue which has brought us much closer to breaking even,” Barlow revealed.

“The club is still losing money, and we are forecast to lose money in this coming season, but we are in a much better situation than we were three or four years ago. 

“We’ve been very focused at board level and at management level at really growing our revenues. That’s to do with everything – shirt sales, crowds, memberships, sponsors – all the metrics.

“We are forecasting further growth for this coming season and we are getting much, much closer to breaking even.

“I’d like to think that in another year’s time we’ll be at break even. After that the new TV deal is obviously the key unknown at the moment and that is going to be critically important for all A-League clubs.”

While there are calls for the A-League to be run independently of Football Federation Australia, Barlow is content at the moment with the status quo, although the current financial state of some clubs is worrying.

“The A-League is run well by the FFA, they do a good job,” Barlow said. “But the most pressing issue moving forward is having 10 financially viable clubs that are all growing and are all strengthening from season to season.

“There are a number of clubs in very strong positions – they are growing and strengthening the league. But it’s important that all the clubs are strengthening and at the moment there are a small number that aren’t and we need to get that right. That’s the biggest concern of the league, and the FFA has a role to play in making that happen.

“All of the owners of the clubs and the chairman get together regularly – three to four times a year we have really positive conversations.

“We discuss what’s going well, what’s not going so well, and what we’d like to see changed. We have those same discussions with the FFA. It’s a good open forum where we discuss all the major strategic issues facing the league and over time we make progress and good steps forward.”

While there has been talk in the wider football community about introducing transfer payments within clubs, scrapping the salary cap and implementing promotion and regulation, Barlow said the main priority at the moment should be making the current A-League teams sustainable.

“I think the model that we’ve got in place at the moment is probably the right one,” he said.

“There are lots of concepts put forward every year – different changes and adjustments. There are opportunities to look at that those sorts of things maybe down the track. First and foremost we need 10 strong viable teams and then we need to grow to 12, then 14, and that should be everyone’s focus.”

Barlow also revealed there have been talks about adopting the MLS marquee system but any potential changes are some way into the future.

“There is more of a centralised model with the way the MLS funds marquee players and it’s something that we’ve talked about with the owners,” he said. “It’s something that we’ve also discussed with the FFA.

“Could we look at different ways of funding that going forward? I think it’s something that the clubs and the FFA are interested in discussing further but the discussions around that have been pretty early days.”

Con Stamocostas is an Australian football writer. Click here to see more of his work and check out the latest episode of his A-League Snobcast with co-host Rob Toddler.