A new "investor" and the spectre of a new boss were key features of a number of sweeping changes announced today to Christchurch-based Super Rugby franchise the Crusaders.
As already foreshadowed, the franchise confirmed West Coast coal mine owner Brent Francis will underwrite the team which has adopted a new commercially driven focus.
The provincial unions and foundation members of the team - Canterbury, West Coast, Tasman, Mid Canterbury, Buller and South Canterbury - have formed a new limited liability company, which will run the franchise.
The New Zealand Rugby Union will still own it.
However, the national rugby body has decided to grant the new provincial union consortium a licence to run it until 2020, much in the same way it granted the Wellington Rugby Union and a group of private investors power over the Hurricanes. While on the face of it little will change for fans of the team, the same can't be said for its backroom.
The new board will appoint a new chief executive, according to today's press release, although there were rumours long serving chief executive Hamish Riach had already nabbed the job.
Francis will join a new look board made up of two Canterbury Rugby Union representatives, two independents and one appointed by the consortium. The licensee's responsibilities will include management of the team both on-field and off-field, including the professional development of members of the squad and marketing and promotion of matches.
The licensee will retain most of match gate takings and some sponsorship income and also pay administration staff and additional coaching and management staff, fund training facilities, match operations and marketing costs.
The NZRU will continue to retain ownership of the brands associated with each team, continue to pay player and coach contracts from centralised broadcasting and sponsorship revenue and continue to pay all travel and accommodation costs associated with the regular season.
CRFU chairman Stewart Mitchell said this licence agreement is the best possible outcome for all of the provincial unions involved.
"This will give the provincial unions involved real input in the future of the Crusaders. Each of the provincial unions that make up the Crusaders region has committed to the new structure, so we are all in this together.
"The provincial unions, as the custodians of rugby in this area, were keen to see that we all remained involved in the management of the Crusaders.
"We are obviously all huge supporters of the Crusaders and we believe that it is in the best interests of this great rugby organisation that decisions around its future continue to be made by the rugby unions that have always been at the heart of it."
Francis declined to comment but in a written statement said: "I am thrilled to be involved in the new Crusaders limited partnership. As a Crusaders fan, I am happy to be able to help ensure the future viability of this great rugby organisation."
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