AFL grand final: Why Blackstone is barracking for Collingwood and you should too

Stephen Schwarzman, the chief executive of US investment giant Blackstone, will surely throw the considerable weight of his firm behind Collingwood in the AFL grand final this weekend.

After all, Blackstone holds an 80 per cent stake in one of the club’s major sponsors, La Trobe Financial, having bought into the $6 billion non-bank lender and wealth manager in late 2017.

La Trobe has a seven-year sponsorship deal with Collingwood that finishes in 2021, and long-standing chief executive and Pies fan, Greg O’Neil, says it is likely to be renewed.

He describes Collingwood as unique, given its size – about $77 million in annual revenue, crowds that regularly top 80.000 and a huge profile among Australian sporting clubs.

For O’Neil, there’s no doubt the sponsorship deal makes business sense. As well as the traditional exposure sponsors get – logos on club gear, for example – O’Neil says La Trobe has been able to convert a chunk of the club’s 75,000 members into investors.

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McGuire pulling the strings

The clubs resurgence in 2018 has been the icing on the cake. O’Neil puts much of the club’s 2018 rise down to president Eddie McGuire.

“Eddie often gets accused of being too passionate, but nothing great in this world gets done without passion. And going from placing 13th last year to playing in the grand final this year really proves the model.”

Chanticleer spent some time with O’Neil on a trip to Tokyo last year. He’s a warm and generous character, someone who takes his business seriously, but not himself.

He’s also one of those unsung people who make a city tick by being generous in his support of various causes. La Trobe recently donated $6 million to the Epworth Hospital to enable the purchase of six high-tech operating theatre robots.

That Collingwood’s resurgence has run in parallel with the club’s enlarged focus on its own philanthropic work is important to O’Neil. He points to Collingwood’s Magpie Nest initiative, which provides 48 houses around Melbourne for up to 350 homeless each night, as a good example.

Making a difference

“It’s an unmatched tangible contribution back to the social harmony of our city and community,” O’Neil says.

“We are very committed to working side by side with organisations like Collingwood and people like Eddie, who make a difference in the lives of others.”

As a lifelong Collingwood supporter, I hope Collingwood wins for me, and for my three boys, and my mum and my brother and my grandmother and all my Collingwood mates.

But having talked to McGuire and O’Neil this week, I’ve been reminded that sporting clubs like this exist beyond the footy field.

And that’s an even better reason for all of us – from Stephen Schwarzman down – to help cheer the Pies home on Saturday.

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