NEWCASTLE soccer legend Ray Baartz believes passion, as well as deep pockets, will be essential if the prospective new owner of the Jets is to succeed.
The Jets appear on the verge of changing hands for the fifth time in their 15-season A-League history after news emerged that Chinese billionaire Martin Lee was negotiating to sell the franchise to a Sydney-based businessman.
Lee has spent an estimated $15 million on the Jets since buying the franchise from interim owners Football Federation Australia four years ago.
Before him, Con Constantine and Nathan Tinkler pumped millions into the Jets, who are yet to post a profit in any season since the A-League's inception.
Even before the A-League, Newcastle teams struggled to stay afloat in the national competition, from KB United in the 1970s through to the Newcastle Breakers.
Baartz said if Lee does strike a deal, the new owner - who is yet to be identified - needed to be realistic about the challenges ahead.
"I think it's got to be someone who has a lot of passion for football, because I certainly don't think you would look at it as a financial investment in the current environment," Baartz said.
"But if you've got someone who can come in and back it up financially, and has the passion for it, then hopefully he might be the saviour, so to speak ... let's hope if this guy comes in, he can give us that level of success, because we'll benefit at all levels of the game."
Asked if he felt the Jets could eventually become a break-even or even profitable operation, Baartz replied: "It depends a lot on sponsorship. We've seen recently what's been happening with Foxtel and also [A-League major sponsors] Hyundai.
"You need major sponsors at the highest level. That's crucial to the success of the whole A-League.
"But if we've got a successful team, I reckon they can break even.
"A successful team brings in the crowds and the minor sponsors.
"I think if you can get the right sort of people at the helm, someone who can maybe come in and run it in the same vein as Wests run the Knights, I think we've got a big chance."
Baartz helped found KB United, Newcastle's inaugural national-league team, serving on the committee and later coaching the team.
A teenage prodigy from Adamstown Rosebuds who had a stint at Manchester United and became vice-captain of the Socceroos, Baartz had no doubt Newcastle and the Hunter produced enough footballing talent to support a successful A-League team.
"Let's hope whoever comes in can give them that sort of opportunity," he said.
When Tinkler took over the Jets in October, 2010, Baartz was initially invited onto the club's advisory board and then appointed chairman.
"We thought this was too good to be true," he said of Tinkler. "And it was."
Considering the current economic climate, he felt it was a positive sign that someone was willing to take over the Jets.
"I'm a bit surprised, to be honest, that someone is coming in and showing interest, given the financial environment," he said.
"I suppose that means it's somebody with a lot of confidence in the code, and in the A-League and the Jets to make a commitment like that.
"So let's hope that if it does happen, they can back it up with the finances and whatever else is needed."