Eric Series could not be further removed from the Chiefs in Mauritius but yesterday he officially became the first overseas investor in New Zealand rugby as one of their new backers.
The seven-year licence deal announced by New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew to run the Chiefs involves a 50/50 split between a group of six provincial rugby unions, including newcomers Taranaki, and a number of private investors who form what is to be known as the Chiefs Rugby Club.
Series, a wealthy French-born investor and executive chairman of Kiwi company Sealegs, is one of those private backers, providing 6.39 per cent of a $3.3 million cash injection into the Chiefs.
Chiefs chairman Dallas Fisher said Series had become an ardent All Blacks and Chiefs rugby fan through his visits to New Zealand with his involvement in Sealegs.
The company invented and marketed the world's first boat with retractable wheels that enabled it to be driven in and out of the water and Series' family interests became a majority shareholder through their financial backing.
A sponsorship/promotional connection with the All Blacks that started a few years ago led to Series' friendship with Mils Muliaina who was playing for both the national side and the Chiefs at the time and the Frenchman has been an enthusiastic supporter ever since.
The licence deal, which enables capital investment without actually selling off the franchises, is the fourth to be announced by the NZ union with the Hurricanes, Crusaders and Blues previously being granted licences.
Fisher said the remaining private investment that made up a 50 per cent share of capital investment was headed by a Waikato syndicate contributing 24.93 per cent through a group of 16 investors from a wide range of industries each putting in between two and six per cent.
A Taranaki syndicate that includes former Fonterra and PGG Wrightson boss Craig Norgate adds 11.18 per cent and another Taranaki private investor Phillip Brown another 7.12 per cent.
The Counties Manukau, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki provincial unions each contribute 11.55 per cent and Thames Valley and King Country 1.9 per cent each.
Mr Tew was keen to assure both Chiefs fans in the existing franchise area and Hurricanes fans in Taranaki that they had done plenty of market research before agreeing to the involvement of the Taranaki union, which guarantees two Chiefs home games in New Plymouth for each of the next two seasons.
Next year the stadium there will host games against the Blues (May 9) and Waratahs (May 31), although Waikato Stadium's allocation of six round-robin matches will not be affected with Counties Manukau and Bay of Plenty to big losers.
"At the end of the day any change is going to upset someone, but the majority of people we spoke to in our research were supportive or neutral," he said.
"In the end the proof will be in the pudding, it always is, and if the Chiefs Rugby Club continues to deliver games to Taranaki and the team embraces their region the way they have the rest of the Chiefs' existing geographical area then they will have no problem.
"If we've upset some people then obviously we apologise for that but we've got to keep moving forward and this was part of that."
- Waikato Times
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