Investors take quartet's spots on Canes board

GLENN MCLEAN
Last updated 05:00 21/11/2012

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Taranaki Rugby has lost its voice on the Hurricanes board after the franchise was partly privatised last week.

Former Taranaki Rugby Football Union chairman Peter Crawford has lost his spot on the board along with Manawatu's Steve Morris, Hawke's Bay's Steve Lunn and Poverty Bay's Malcolm McLean.

The quartet have been replaced by representatives of the new investors, headed by the Wellington union, which now holds a 50 per cent share of the new licence issued by the New Zealand Rugby Union to manage the Hurricanes.

Welnix Ltd, the owners of the Wellington Phoenix, have a 12.5 per cent share, with other private investors also taking a cut.

There is a 12.5 per cent share (about $400,000) still available to other rugby unions in the Hurricanes franchise, although Taranaki, Manawatu and Hawke's Bay have already publicly stated they are not interested.

After five years on the board, Crawford knew private investment was never far away.

"The demand for extra funding, the demand for a greater skill around governance and all those other areas did make it inevitable," he said.

"While it was inevitable we will have to wait and see how it is controlled because we don't want it to end up like the clubs in England where they control the players."

The new owners of the Hurricanes will have the power to select players and market the team while keeping the revenue from ticketing and sponsorship. The NZRU retains the ownership of the Hurricanes brand and pays the players and coaches from their multimillion-dollar broadcasting revenue.

Crawford knows all too well the challenges facing the new Hurricanes board after seeing first-hand the dividends to former franchise partners dry up because of dwindling crowds and rising costs.

"It was generally right through the country, that people were not going en masse like they were and the financial side of things did suffer," he said.

Nevertheless, he still believed a Super Rugby franchise could work in Taranaki if the competition expanded.

"I think Taranaki did its homework when they put their initial bid in and if anything, they are in a stronger position now.

"It would be nice to retain the players who are leaving the country and keep them playing in New Zealand. Provincial unions are spending a lot of money getting those players up to the required level and there is still a large number who can not be catered for - we should be able to keep them in New Zealand."

The biggest challenge for Taranaki if it was ever granted a franchise would be maintaining people's "appetite" for increased games, Crawford said. "They would have to be competitive to keep the crowds. That would be a challenge, but we certainly have the infrastructure in place."

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