Counties may return to Blues in privatisation

DUNCAN JOHNSTONE
Last updated 15:44 17/05/2013
Counties
Richard Spranger
GOING HOME? Counties-Manukau has been placed inside the Chiefs' boundary since 1999.

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Don’t rule out Counties-Manukau returning to the Blues for Super Rugby.

That prospect was raised today as the Blues confirmed a seven-year licence for a new structure to run the franchise.

The Blues, following the lead of the Crusaders and Hurricanes, have taken the opportunity to control some of their own destiny and have involved private backers.

Auckland, North Harbour and Northland Provincial Unions together with a private investor, have been granted the licence to operate the Blues Investec Super Rugby Franchise until 2020.

The new structure is a limited liability partnership with Rugby Holdings Ltd (comprised of the three Provincial Unions) holding a 60 per cent share and Bolton Equities Ltd, a private investment company run by Murray Bolton having a 40 per cent stake.

“We are very pleased to secure this new arrangement in our biggest city,” said New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew.

“This will ensure rugby at the professional level can keep thriving in a region where it faces stiff competition for sport fans’ attention.

“The Blues are tracking well this year, but we all know one good season is not enough to sustain the game long term. This new arrangement is therefore a step forward in terms of building a stronger foundation for Investec Super Rugby in Auckland.

“With fresh thinking and new capital we believe the Blues will be better equipped to face the challenges ahead. We are very pleased with the calibre of the new faces on the Blues board and welcome them to the rugby business where we are sure they will make a difference.”

Tew said ensuring rugby was the sport of choice in Auckland was a key goal for New Zealand Rugby as part of its Towards 2016 strategy and the new operator would play a role in that.

“Winning in our biggest city is critical for us. We are working with our partner unions and others there to ensure rugby continues to attract fans and players so getting the structure right at the professional level will certainly help in that regard.”

Tew was guarded on the prospect of Counties-Manukau rejoining the franchise.

The provincial union was part of the original – and successful – Blues franchise in 1996.

But in 1999 Counties-Manukau was moved into the Chiefs boundaries.

The Manukau region appears to have a more natural alliance with Auckland, especially under the new Super City structure of governance.

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“We haven’t dismissed that as a possibility in the future,” Tew said when asked about Counties returning to the Blues.

“The boundaries and the work we do in this area are going to be subject to some change in the future … but not currently on the cards.”

Bolton is executive chairman of Bolton Equities, a private equity investment company with significant stakes in a number of private companies in New Zealand and Australia.

“These are exciting times for the Blues and I am looking forward to being part of this new venture,” Bolton said.

“The Blues are a key part of rugby’s domestic and international landscape. I believe having local organisations with a vested interest in seeing the Blues exceed expectations by securing the management and operational rights, is an important step for the business and the region.”

A new board of seven members will become effective from September 1  with independent chairman Tony Carter at the helm.

Carter is chairman of Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, a director of Fletcher Building Limited, Chairman (elect) of Air New Zealand Limited, ANZ National Bank Limited, is co-chairman of the New Zealand Initiative and is a trustee of the Maurice Carter Charitable Trust. He served as Managing Director of Foodstuffs New Zealand Limited for 10 years from 2001 to 2010.

Key facts Blues licence

• The Blues Limited Liability Partnership is 60 per cent Rugby Holdings Ltd and 40 per cent Bolton Equities Ltd

• The shareholders in Rugby Holdings Ltd are:

 - Auckland Rugby Union – 65 per cent

 - North Harbour Rugby Union – 29 per cent

  - Northland Rugby Union – 6 per cent

The new Blues board will be:

• Tony Carter – Chairman 

• Murray Bolton – Bolton Equities

• Laurie Margrain – Bolton Equities

• To be appointed – Bolton Equities

• Glenn Wahlstrom – Rugby Holdings – ARU nominee

• Gary Whetton – Rugby Holdings – ARU nominee

• John Morgan – Rugby Holdings – NHRU

The licence to manage includes:

• management of the team both on-field and off-field including, the professional development for members of the squad 

• marketing promotion of matches and the team

• the Licensee will retain predominantly gate and some sponsorship income and pay administration, additional coaching and management staff, training facilities, match operations, and marketing costs

- Fairfax Media

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