Mine owner new Crusaders backer

A new investor and a new boss were key features of sweeping changes announced today to Christchurch-based Super Rugby franchise the Crusaders.

The franchise has confirmed that West Coast coalmine 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 limited liability company that will run the franchise.

The New Zealand Rugby Union will still own it.

However, the national 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 Football Union and a group of private investors power over the Hurricanes.

While on the face of it little will change for Crusaders fans, the same cannot be said for the team's backroom.

The new board will appoint a new chief executive,  today's press release says, although there are 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 Football 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, and 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 was 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,'' he said.

"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." 

Francis declined to comment but in a 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."

The Press