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New era for Blues off the field

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allblacks.com     17 May 2013     Getty Images

- Auckland, North Harbour and Northland unions with 60 per cent share
- Private investment company, Bolton Equities, with 40 per cent share

Auckland, North Harbour and Northland Provincial Unions together with a private investor, have been granted the licence to operate the Blues Investec Super Rugby Franchise until 2020.

The new structure is a limited liability partnership with Rugby Holdings Ltd (comprised of the three Provincial Unions) holding a 60 per cent share and Bolton Equities Ltd, a private investment company run by Murray Bolton having a 40 per cent stake.

“We are very pleased to secure this new arrangement in our biggest city,” said New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew.

“This will ensure rugby at the professional level can keep thriving in a region where it faces stiff competition for sport fans’ attention.

“The Blues are tracking well this year, but we all know one good season is not enough to sustain the game long term. This new arrangement is therefore a step forward in terms of building a stronger foundation for Investec Super Rugby in Auckland.

“With fresh thinking and new capital we believe the Blues will be better equipped to face the challenges ahead. We are very pleased with the calibre of the new faces on the Blues board and welcome them to the rugby business where we are sure they will make a difference.”

Murray Bolton said: “These are exciting times for the Blues and I am looking forward to being part of this new venture. The Blues are a key part of rugby’s domestic and international landscape. I believe having local organisations with a vested interest in seeing the Blues exceed expectations by securing the management and operational rights, is an important step for the business and the region.”

A new board of seven members will become effective from September 1 this year with independent chairman Tony Carter at the helm.

Carter is chairman of Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, a director of Fletcher Building Limited, Chairman (Elect) of Air New Zealand Limited, ANZ National Bank Limited, is co-chairman of the New Zealand Initiative and is a trustee of the Maurice Carter Charitable Trust. He served as Managing Director of Foodstuffs New Zealand Limited for ten years from 2001 to 2010.

“I am a passionate rugby follower and it’s a real honour to be appointed chairman of the new Blues board as the organisation moves into a new era of governance and management,” said Carter.

Steve Tew said ensuring rugby was the sport of choice in Auckland was a key goal for New Zealand Rugby as part of its Towards 2016 strategy and the new operator would play a role in that.

“Winning in our biggest city is critical for us. We are working with our partner unions and others there to ensure rugby continues to attract fans and players so getting the structure right at the professional level will certainly help in that regard.”

Last year New Zealand Rugby awarded licences for the Hurricanes and Crusaders. Steve Tew said good progress was also being made with the Chiefs which is the remaining licence available. The process to develop a suitable shareholding structure is being led by Chiefs Provincial Unions.

BACKGROUND
Key facts Blues licence

• The Blues Limited Liability Partnership is 60 per cent Rugby Holdings Ltd and 40 per cent Bolton Equities Ltd
• The shareholders in Rugby Holdings Ltd are:
o Auckland Rugby Union – 65 per cent
o North Harbour Rugby Union – 29 per cent
o Northland Rugby Union – 6 per cent

The new Blues board will be:
• Tony Carter – Chairman
• Murray Bolton – Bolton Equities
• Laurie Margrain – Bolton Equities
• To be appointed – Bolton Equities
• Glenn Wahlstrom – Rugby Holdings – ARU nominee
• Gary Whetton – Rugby Holdings – ARU nominee
• John Morgan – Rugby Holdings – NHRU

The licence to manage includes:
• management of the team both on-field and off-field including, the professional development for members of the squad
• marketing promotion of matches and the team
• the Licensee will retain predominantly gate and some sponsorship income and pay administration, additional coaching and management staff, training facilities, match operations, and marketing costs.
o In the immediate term, the shared services agreement with Auckland Rugby Union to manage the Blues Franchise will continue.

Background on Murray Bolton
• Executive Chairman of Bolton Equities Ltd, a private equity investment company with significant stakes in a number of private companies in New Zealand and Australia.
• A founding Trustee of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust and has been Chairman for the last 10 years.
• Has a career background in international finance and investment with Citicorp in New York and was CEO of Brierley Investments (NZ) Ltd, Skellerup Group Ltd and the Rural Bank of New Zealand.

Background on Investec Super Rugby Franchise licences
The five Super Rugby Franchises are owned by New Zealand Rugby and are currently run by boards representing the Provincial Unions that make up each Super Rugby catchment. Reviews into the financial sustainability and structure of Super Rugby and franchises identified the need to reinvigorate the franchise model and provide for additional investment to improve its financial sustainability.

Expressions of interest were called for in December 2011 for four of the five licences. The Highlanders were not part of the process.

Licences have been awarded for the Hurricanes and Crusaders.

A Super Rugby Licensee's responsibilities will include:
• management of the team both on-field and off-field including, the professional development for members of the squad
• marketing promotion of matches and the team
• the Licensee will retain predominantly gate and some sponsorship income and pay administration, additional coaching and management staff, training facilities, match operations, and marketing costs.
New Zealand Rugby will:
• retain ownership of the brands associated with each team
• continue to fund player and coach contracts from centralised broadcasting and sponsorship revenue.
• continue to pay all travel and accommodation costs associated with the regular season (excluding playoffs) through SANZAR