Taranaki union, backers sign on the line

GLENN MCLEAN IN HAMILTON
Last updated 05:00 11/12/2013
Waikato Times

As part of arrangement between rugby unions and private investors the Taranaki Rugby Football Union has joined the Chiefs in a seven-year licence issued by New Zealand Rugby.

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Prominent businessmen Philip Brown and Craig Norgate have been unveiled as the two major backers of Taranaki's investment into the Chiefs.

The deal, which has been more than nine months in the making, was finally made public in Hamilton yesterday by New Zealand Rugby Union boss Steve Tew.

In the joint deal, which will bring two Chiefs home games to New Plymouth's Yarrow Stadium in each of the next two seasons, the Waikato, Counties-Manukau, Thames Valley, Bay of Plenty, King Country and Taranaki provincial unions will provide 50 per cent of a $3.3 million investment in the organisation.

The other half will be provided by private investors from Waikato, Taranaki and, for the first time in New Zealand Super rugby history, overseas through Mauritius-based Chiefs fan and businessman Eric Series.

Although individual investment figures were not made public, Mr Brown and Mr Norgate are believed to be providing the lion's share of Taranaki's investment. The Taranaki Rugby Football Union and two smaller investors, who preferred not to be named, have also put cash into the deal.

Mr Brown, who in 2010 sold Tenderlink for $21.6m and is behind the proposed $18m four-plus star 100-room hotel on the corner of Hobson and Leach streets, New Plymouth, has had a strong association with Taranaki rugby.

He established Tenderlink as the union's major sponsor in 2009 before he sold his business to Australia-based media giant Fairfax.

"To be part owner in a Super Rugby franchise is quite exciting, but the reality is we are not in it for the money," he said.

A member of the new Chiefs board, Mr Brown expected the Super Rugby champions to benefit greatly from the investment, a significant amount of which would be used to further upgrade its Ruakura base.

Mr Brown saw the stake, which gives its Taranaki investors an 11.18 per cent share in the licence to run the franchise, under the umbrella of the Chiefs Rugby Club, as a real opportunity to grow the brand globally.

"Longer term, I think there is going to be some real opportunities there."

Mr Norgate is no stranger to Taranaki, having been born and raised in Hawera. He held the role of Fonterra's first chief executive, is a former chairman of PGG Wrightson, is the boss of the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants, and is co-opted director of the TRFU and former board member of the NZRU.

Yesterday's announcement coincided with the announcement that Yarrow Stadium will host games against the Blues on Friday, May 9, and the Waratahs three weeks later on Saturday, May 31. Waikato Stadium will host the other six.

The deal also ends Taranaki's 17-year association with the Wellington-based Hurricanes.

TRFU chairman Lindsay Thomson said the union, which will take an 11.55 per cent stake in the Chiefs licence, pulled out of the Hurricanes because it did not see a significant benefit in investing with the franchise.

"When we looked at the capital requirements and the certainty around the games, which was not enhanced or greatly improved from what we had in the past, we felt we simply could not invest in the Hurricanes."

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He also pointed out that neither the Hawke's Bay nor Manawatu unions had invested in the Hurricanes.

The Chiefs had then approached Taranaki about its interest in heading north.

Although the new licence agreement only guaranteed two games at Yarrow Stadium for the next two years, Mr Thomson pointed out that nothing could be put in place for 2015 because a new broadcasting deal had yet to be signed between the Sanzar countries outlining what format the Super Rugby competition would take in two years time.

CANES CHIEF NOT SURPRISED

 

Hurricanes chief executive James Te Puni said he was "disappointed but not surprised" by the announcement yesterday that Taranaki is breaking off 17 years of tradition to try their luck elsewhere.

"Our research shows us that the Hurricanes are still the No 1 Super rugby team as far as Taranaki people are concerned and we are hopeful that that support will continue in the same way as when we go to Auckland there is a fan base of Canes supporters," Te Puni said.

"We still hope to see the next Beauden Barrett running out in a Hurricanes jersey. As far as provincial unions are concerned, players are playing all over the country these days. We are hoping that the tradition of players from under the mountain looking to the Canes continues."

When Taranaki's move to the Chiefs became increasingly likely, Te Puni tabled a new deal that would've resulted in Taranaki hosting two Hurricanes games next season.

"We put a strong offer to them. We were prepared to take a couple of games to New Plymouth each year," Te Puni said.

"(But) They had made a decision to go the Chiefs. I want the fans in Taranaki to know we put the best foot forward in terms of games.

"We would've preferred Taranaki to stay within the family of nine [Hurricanes] provinces."

- Taranaki Daily News

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