The Australian Rugby Union's experiment with private ownership of a Super Rugby franchise in Melbourne has come to an end with the foundation shareholders of the Rebels giving up their stakes in the club.
It was revealed on Thursday that the club's largest shareholder, media buyer, Harold Mitchell, and current and former board members will transfer their shares to the Victorian Rugby Union, the state body representing the Australian Rugby Union, with businessman Jonathan Ling set to replace Mitchell as chairman.
The move had been anticipated with speculation that the Rebels, which has had several chief executives since its inception, were among the Australian clubs that were struggling financially.
Bob Dalziel, Lyndsey Cattermole, Alan Winney, Ralph D'Silva, Gary Gray, Paul Kirk, Leon L'Huillier, David Ogilvy and Michael Bartlett are the other shareholders who will transfer their stakes.
The Rebels crowds have been decreasing since its inaugural season in 2011 and despite improved on-field performances in the second half of this season they cannot finish any better than 12th this year.
The mid-week game against British and Irish Lions which the Rebels lost 35-0 on Tuesday night attracted their largest crowd of more than 28,000 but was still short of a sell-out.
In 2010, then-ARU chief executive John O'Neill warned potential backers of the Rebels to do so only if they have a spare $1 million to indulge a passion, likening the investment to owning a boat or a racehorse.
"The thing about owning a sporting franchise is that you don't go into these ventures to make money, you go into it hoping not to lose any," O'Neill said.
"If you had $1 million and you are looking for an investment opportunity and you're looking for double digit returns I wouldn't put it into the Rebels.
"But if you've got $1 million it doesn't really mean a lot to you. If you want to have fun, enjoy yourself and indulge your passion, (then) $1 million into the Rebels is fantastic."
- The Age
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