Debt-free Chiefs now looking for licence to thrill

EVAN PEGDEN
Last updated 05:00 05/12/2012

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Super Rugby

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The Chiefs have got themselves debt-free and made the biggest reinvestments in their business yet on the back of a breakthrough Super Rugby season.

But the 2012 Super Rugby champions are determined that it does not end there and their off-field feats keep pace with the on-field ones.

Having been told by the New Zealand Rugby Union to get their governance in order before finalising a private licence bid for the franchise, the Chiefs have done just that and are now keen to get things moving in that direction.

Dallas Fisher, reappointed chairman at the first meeting of the new-look Chiefs board in Hamilton on Monday, said the Chiefs were now "in great shape" both financially and structurally and were waiting for the NZRU to decide what the next phase of the licensing process would be.

"The NZRU will be meeting in December to take a view on that, it is my understanding, and then based on that process we would hope the Chiefs and the provincial unions would work together to drive that forward," Fisher said.

"At the Hurricanes it's happened, at the Crusaders it is in progress and we don't want to be left behind.

"It's about getting investment, new networks, new skills into the business from a Chiefs perspective and on top of that the NZRU are just looking to recapitalise, I suppose."

Fisher said it was too early to talk about just how new capital investment in the Chiefs would be used, but rugby was now a business and like any business they were looking to improve the strength and performance of the organisation. Capital could enable that, along with good strategy and good people.

"Any investment would be looking to build high performance capability, commercial capability and just manage any risk in the business."

Fisher said the new Chiefs board, where four of the six directors are new, spent most of Monday thoroughly acquainting itself with every aspect of the franchise and the plans for next season before having its first face-to-face meeting.

Having been forced to borrow money from the NZRU after both the 2010 and 2011 Super Rugby seasons, the Chiefs had made a "healthy profit" this year which was still being audited.

However, the loans from the national body that were originally to be repaid over a five-year period had all been repaid in full two months ago, there were no other significant debts, and money had also been spent on providing a new sand-based training field at Ruakura and new high performance training equipment.

That still leaves some surplus, which the Chiefs must decide on how best to use, and while any profit in the past has been divided among the provincial unions that make up the franchise there is now a strong emphasis on reinvestment.

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"The big message is that we're reinvesting in the business after repaying our debt and have already made the largest investment we've ever made by a long way."

Fisher said there were highly promising signs that season memberships for 2013 would surpass the record 2400 sold for this year.

So far just over 80 per cent of the 2012 members have been re-signed for next season, in addition to a number of new members, and the Chiefs expected that to reach up to 90 per cent before the closing date in three months, beating the 85 per cent chalked up by the NZ Warriors when they won the NRL competition for re-signing members two years ago.

- Waikato

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