More work is needed on Highlanders proposal

Private investment in the Highlanders remains a work in progress and is unlikely to happen this year.

Highlanders general manager Roger Clark confirmed the New Zealand Rugby Union hoped to be ready to put the southern franchise on the market by the end of the year but the time frame was getting tight.

"The groundwork is still being done for that. It's quite a lot of work, as you can imagine, to get a prospectus together. We've had to do plans and budgets out to 2020 so there's a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes," Clark said.

With seven wins from 12 starts before last night's game against the Reds in Brisbane, the Highlanders are a much more attractive prospect on the pitch than last season's underperforming squad.

Crowds this year have been close to budget, and there was a bumper 21,350-strong crowd for last Saturday's game against the Crusaders.

Four other New Zealand franchises have been sold into joint ventures between rugby unions and private investors.

Late last year, a new entity including businessmen from Taranaki and Waikato, along with the Counties Manukau, Bay of Plenty, King Country, Taranaki, Thames Valley and Waikato unions paid an initial investment of $3.3 million for a seven-year licence for the Chiefs.

"Just like the fans, if you were looking at buying a franchise you'd rather buy this one than the one we had last year," Clark said.

"It's definitely got to help when you are performing like that."

Licence owners retain ticket and sponsorship revenues and are allowed to select their own players, market the team and promote games.

The NZRU retains ownership of the team "brands" and pays the players and coaches from broadcasting revenue.

Given both the Otago and Southland unions are still recovering from insolvency issues, it would appear unlikely they would be in a position to join a joint venture, but Clark said that didn't mean they couldn't be involved in some fashion.

"I wouldn't discount any involvement by the unions. I'd definitely discount any investment, because obviously they haven't got [much] money and what money they have, they have to put into local development.

There have been different models all around, from individuals to groups to clusters of investors. Until they make that final assessment of what is required to buy the licence, and what it entails, who knows?"

Until people knew what they were buying, it was hard to say what private ownership might look like for the Highlanders.

"The start point for us is to make sure that we've got the business going well, on and off the field. That's what we've been trying to do since 2010," Clark said.

"It's well documented that it's been a real challenge for all rugby entities in this part of the world, it's just a matter of making sure that we can sustain the business south of the Waitaki.

"We are never going to make a truckload of money because of the scale we have down here, but, if we can sustain it, then the potential to have an investor may or may not be there."

The Southland Times