New Zealand rugby moves toward private ownership

The Wellington Hurricanes and Canterbury Crusaders Super 15 rugby teams will be managed by investor-appointed boards from next year as the New Zealand Rugby Union takes its first steps toward private ownership.
The NZRU said Monday a license to manage the Hurricanes from 2013 had been awarded to a consortium led by the Wellington Rugby Union and including a number of high-profile business people.
Agreement in principle has also been reached to allow a consortium to take over the Crusaders which, with seven championship titles, is the most successful Super rugby team.
The new owners will have the power to select players, market their teams and promote matches, retaining ticketing and sponsorship revenues. The NZRU will retain ownership of the team "brands" and pay players and coaches from broadcasting revenues.
Since rugby became professional in 1996, New Zealand's five Super rugby teams have been owned by the NZRU and managed by boards representing the provincial rugby unions in each team's region.
The NZRU conducted a review earlier this year into the structure and financial sustainability of its Super rugby franchises which recommended a move toward limited privatization to attract new investment.
Monday's announcement of new operators for the Hurricanes and Crusaders mark the first steps toward a new ownership model.
"Our aim at the start of this process was to ensure franchises could benefit from being run by independent boards with an improved mix of commercial, marketing and management expertise with an injection of outside capital to strengthen their financial performance," NZRU chief executive Steve Tew said.
"We were looking for stronger governance at the board level, fresh thinking and new investors and the Hurricanes consortium certainly delivers in that regard."
Tew said rugby operates in a highly competitive market for the attention of sports fans.
"This move gives the game at the professional level a better chance to be run profitably, to build on its appeal to fans and to enhance its ability to feed a winning All Blacks team," he said.
"These new arrangements are a step forward in terms of putting Super rugby on a stronger financial footing to ensure the game at the professional level is better placed to prosper and deliver for its fans."
The final license agreement around the Crusaders is expected to be signed within a month, Tew said. A mixture of international and domestic interest has been shown in the license for the Auckland Blues but no bidders were secured for current Super 15 champions the Waikato Chiefs.
The NZRU will retain ownership of the Otago Highlanders.
"We expect a bid for the Blues will be submitted to allow a license to be issued for 2014," Tew said. "However, it is disappointing the Chiefs were not able to finalize a bid.
"A new, commercially-focused board has been appointed by the NZRU to build on the great success the Chiefs enjoyed this year both on and off the field."
The new owners will have an option after their first three-year terms to extend their licenses for a further five years.