West Coaster Brent Francis, who made his fortune mining coal, is poised to become a key financier of the Crusaders rugby franchise.
In a new era for professional rugby in this country, the New Zealand Rugby Union unveiled alterations to the ownership model of its Super Rugby franchises yesterday.
Changes at the Hurricanes were the most pronounced and included a consortium of new shareholders in what is effectively a power and shared-ownership model with the Wellington Rugby Union.
While changes at the Crusaders were less dramatic, the NZRU somewhat cryptically said that it and "a Crusaders region consortium have agreed in principle a licence arrangement to operate the Crusaders franchise and a final contract is expected to be signed within a month with the details announced then".
Yesterday, Crusaders chairman Murray Ellis would divulge few further details. He confirmed negotiations were coming to a head with an underwriter whom he would not identify.Fairfax was told last night it is Francis, owner of Roa coal, which exports to Japan, China and India.
Roa is a longtime sponsor of West Coast rugby and Francis now lives in Christchurch.
It is unclear what role he will play in the organisation or if he will seek a place on the Crusaders' board, although Ellis did confirm that there would be changes to its composition next year.
An announcement is due within a month, at which several details - most already in the public domain - will be confirmed.
They include who the licensee is - believed to be the provincial unions that make up the Crusaders catchment - how they will manage the team and control marketing, and generate revenue from gate receipts and the sale of naming rights and from non-rugby activities. The NZRU is expected to retain ownership of the teams.
Gareth Morgan and his eight Welnix Ltd partners, who own the Wellington Phoenix franchise in football's A-League, yesterday took a 12.5 per cent share in the Hurricanes. It would not generate huge profits, Morgan said, but he saw potential in pouring money into a Twenty20 cricket or netball franchise when those sports follow the NZRU's lead.
New Hurricanes chairman Brian Roche said the ownership would pour in $2 million-$3m annually. Fairfax NZ