27 Nov 2015

Investors save Highlanders from overseas interests

5:30 pm on 27 November 2015

The Highlanders' new investors bought in because they wanted to keep the Super Rugby franchise in the south, they say.

A five-year licence has been granted to a private investor group to run the champion franchise.

The Highlanders get their hands on the prize after winning the Super 15 competition for the first time.

The Highlanders get their hands on the prize after winning the Super 15 competition for the first time. Photo: Photosport

The Highlanders are the last of the five New Zealand franchises to have private investors.

The South Island private investor group is headed by Dunedin businessman Matthew Davey, who is the founder and CEO of ticketing agency Ticket Direct.

The group will take a 77 percent stake in the Highlanders with local unions and New Zealand Rugby holding the other 23 percent.

Davey said the opportunity presented itself largely around their knowledge of another offer for the Highlanders from Singapore.

"My 16-year association with the team has been a true affair of the heart, and to be given a business opportunity is a great opportunity - on its own as a business investment," Davey said.

"Combining my passion of the Highlanders and ensuring that there was no doubt that the Highlanders would stay in the south was the goal."

The Otago, Southland and North Otago Provincial Unions will have a 13 percent stake in the new operator. New Zealand Rugby retains a 10 percent share for the first two years, in a bid to assist the side to reach a secure commercial footing.

The new venture is being underwritten by a guarantee from the Invercargill City Council in exchange for guaranteed Highlanders games in the city.

"The Highlanders are now well placed to face the future with renewed confidence and build on what has been a very successful year on the field," New Zealand Rugby CEO Steve Tew said.

"The investor group brings considerable commercial experience, particularly in the sports consumer marketing area, and they have great knowledge of the business of rugby.

"This experience, coupled with strong provincial union support, will really help the Highlanders build a sustainable business and take full advantage of the opportunities ahead."

Davey added: "We see this as a good business opportunity, but equally we have a strong emotional attachment to the South and for me in particular, the Highlanders.

"They've been my team from the very early days of Super Rugby but it's also fair to say that we've been impressed with the work and results that Roger Clark, Jamie Joseph and the previous Highlanders board have achieved, in building the Highlanders up to a point where a group such as ours would be interested.

"We are an experienced, well-resourced, innovative group and we look forward to a long and successful partnership with rugby in the South, and it's certainly our ambition to build on the strong base that New Zealand Rugby has entrusted us with."

Doug Harvie, the chairman of the board of the new operating company said: "Having been involved with provincial unions and the Highlanders, I am very pleased with this investment consortium taking the reins for the ensuing years.

"The commercial acumen they bring is exceptional, and will put the Highlanders in the very best position to build on last year's success."

Today's announcement completes a process begun in December 2011, with licences now awarded to operators of all five Investec Super Rugby teams.

"When we embarked on this process we aimed to ensure the foundation for the professional game in this country remained strong and could adapt to future challenges and opportunities," Tew said.

"We are now better equipped to ensure the professional game continues to feed a winning All Blacks team and keeps delivering for fans."