Buy now: Gareth Morgan's sports vision

First Phoenix, now Canes. Next Pulse and Firebirds?

MARK GEENTY
Last updated 05:00 13/11/2012
New Hurricanes board member and private shareholder Gareth Morgan, wearing his new jersey, chats with the team’s coach, Mark Hammett
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ
PARTNERS IN SPORT: New Hurricanes board member and private shareholder Gareth Morgan, wearing his new jersey, chats with the team’s coach, Mark Hammett.

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Gareth Morgan proudly donned his Hurricanes jersey and hinted his sporting philanthropy could extend further to Wellington cricket and netball franchises.

Trade Me multi-millionaire Dr Morgan and his eight Welnix partners, who own the Wellington Phoenix franchise in football's A-League, yesterday took a 12.5 per cent share in the Hurricanes, who became the first New Zealand Super Rugby franchise to confirm private ownership.

It would not generate huge profits, Dr Morgan said, but he saw potential in pouring money into a Twenty20 cricket or netball franchise if and when those sports followed the New Zealand Rugby Union's lead.

"There's no limit, necessarily. As long as we can see the synergies where both codes and the Wellington region can benefit, then we would stand up for it, yes," he said of potentially having a stake in the big four codes.

New Hurricanes chairman Brian Roche said the ownership team would pour $2 million to $3m into the franchise annually.

The Wellington Rugby Football Union holds 50 per cent and the rest is split among private ownership, with a 12.5 per cent share still available to other rugby unions in the Hurricanes region - including Taranaki, Hawke's Bay and Manawatu - to buy before the February deadline.

Dr Morgan said he was not allowed to reveal how much Welnix was spending on the Hurricanes, but the 12.5 per cent stake suggests a minimum $250,000 a year. That's small change compared with its Phoenix investment.

So why throw money at a sports team for limited return and, in the case of the Hurricanes, limited control? The NZRU still contracts the players and coaches, and Dr Morgan will be one of seven board members, along with fellow private investors Paul Collins and Liz Dawson, with the other three being appointed by the WRFU.

"We're doing this for the Wellington region," he said. "These things are not massive earners and will never be massive earners.

"But it's really important to get them on a sustainable financial footing so there's certainty amongst the players and the guys in the admin. To do that, we have to bulk up and share resources."

That could extend to a Phoenix-Hurricanes double-header during the season crossover in February-March, joint ticket deals and season passes, and building a hi-tech training base to be used by the respective codes' academies.

"We want, in Wellington, a high-performance cross-code sports facility, just like Auckland is developing, and Christchurch and Hamilton. We're getting behind here," Dr Morgan said.

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"The only way we're going to achieve that sort of stuff is for these franchises to co-operate and work together in unison. That's what this is about."

And it was about keeping the Hurricanes, historically the most profitable New Zealand franchise, in Wellington. Welnix stepped in to stop the Phoenix ownership falling into Australian hands after Terry Serepisos' financial woes, and the Hurricanes' power base was potentially open to all-comers too.

NZRU chief executive Steve Tew said a Taranaki bid was floated when the five franchises were put up for tender, but the NZRU had been in exclusive negotiations with the now-confirmed consortium for months.

Dr Morgan said: "If the regions want to secure these franchises and make them reach their full potential, they have to stand up. Otherwise you run the risk of having invested the public's goodwill and money for a 10-year period and the thing running off into another area. That wouldn't be very smart.

"There's a lot of what's driving us. It will boost the Wellington region. I would like to see the other provincial unions step up and take the other share that's on the table."

Mr Roche, chief executive of NZ Post Group and the chairman of Rugby NZ 2011, and WRFU chief executive James Te Puni insisted the Hurricanes would remain a regional franchise. They were committed to playing some matches outside Wellington.

- The Dominion Post

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