Hurricanes deal means little change for fans

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 13/11/2012

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With the video equipment packed away, the promotional photos taken and the last of the savouries snaffled, the reality of the Hurricanes' new licence agreement is that little has changed.

From New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew, to his Wellington equivalent James Te Puni and Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett, the main players all said so themselves.

Some people, most of whom Hurricanes fans have never heard of, will now run things behind the scenes and claim a share of whatever profits the Super Rugby franchise can generate.

The new investors all seemed pretty pleased with themselves and the staff from the NZRU and Wellington Rugby Football Union obviously went to a bit of trouble to put together the announcement.

But it was short on news and high on feel-good jargon, leaving little to tell loyal supporters.

"The initial difference for the fan may be very small," said Tew.

Or, as Te Puni put it: "From day one to day two, there won't be too much [difference]."

Which will leave Hammett and his players to get on with what they are good at.

"We're still focused on performance and focused on creating a great environment," Hammett said.

"The experienced guys and the young guys we've got continue to head towards, ultimately, winning championships."

There should be benefits for a few parties, including fans, in the future. The new licensing arrangement is for three years, with a right of renewal for a further five years.

In the immediate term, the big winner is the NZRU. It retains the sole right to contract players and coaches to the Hurricanes, but no great financial burden beyond that.

That falls to the WRFU, 50 per cent stakeholder under the new agreement, with three investor groups splitting the remaining half. That includes Welnix, owners of the Wellington Phoenix football franchise.

A similar arrangement has been agreed to at the Crusaders, with Tew to release the details of that in the coming weeks. The NZRU also fielded expressions of interest from parties wanting to take up licensee contracts at the Blues and Chiefs, but neither deal will be complete in time for the 2013 season. The Highlanders were not involved in the process.

Te Puni said the new structure gave everyone involved in the Hurricanes some certainty. The extra financial grunt provided by the private investors would enable the franchise to explore different revenue streams.

It also gives them more clout with Westpac Stadium. Both the WRFU and Welnix are believed to have reservations about the "game-day experience" and fans may eventually see an improvement in the catering, entertainment and general viewing comfort at the ground.

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In the meantime, Te Puni and Hammett continue to stress that the Hurricanes are a team of, and for, its people, whether that's in Anaura Bay or Island Bay.

- Wellington

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