Imagine being told ten years ago that in 2012 the Hurricanes were going to be run like a branch office of a Wellington based professional football side.
But this is now what is happening in the Capital as a result of Gareth Morgan’s Welnix consortium’s buying to the Hurricanes franchise. This move does more than alienate the rugby public of Taranaki, Hawkes Bay and Manawatu; it ushers in a shift in the balance of how professional sport is run in the country.
Professional sporting teams in the same city from rival codes being owned by the same organisation or person is very rare globally.
Robert Kraft is owner of the New England Patriots and Revolution in a model that is mostly successful, and then there’s Nathan Tinkler; owner of the Newcastle Knights NRL side and the Jets in the A-League.
And Tinkler symbolises the worst side of private ownership of sporting teams. A mining magnate who can euphemistically be described as brash, he has run these clubs as a luxurious ego trip without really worrying about the sustainability of it all. He is currently offloading his debt by selling off his thoroughbred empire, embroiled in allegations of animal cruelty. It’s a pretty easy assumption that the Jets will be next.
But Morgan is no Tinkler, and Welnix is actually a consortium of nine businessmen, far more interested in promoting Wellington the city rather than any personal grandeur. Having said that, Morgan is more than a man who just likes to wear flouro yellow sporting strips in front of the cameras.
Since they took over the Phoenix just over a year ago, the focus has been around strengthening the club from the bottom up with the introduction of an academy and establishing stronger ties with semi-professional Team Wellington. Not a 10 game David Beckham contract sideshow in site.
That is exactly what they want to build on with the Hurricanes initiative. In the Press Release there was talk about economies of scale (this column will refuse to use the word synergy) in running the clubs concurrently in terms of sports science and facilities for both the senior and academy squads.
And then there was the benefit that got people paying attention.
“A combined voice when it comes to council support and stadium costs and usage”
The Stadium in Wellington, for all its many triumphs, has become increasingly renowned for being, well, a bit greedy. For example, the Wellington Rugby Union stopped playing its club finals there in recent years because it just couldn’t afford it. It is the only province in the country to not play the pinnacle of its club season at the region’s main ground.
Morgan has already been vocal about the quality and price of refreshments at the stadium, which turned out to be the most popular thing Welnix has done so far. This is an issue that resonates all over the country.
Already the Wellington City Council, via John Soundbite Morrison, has conceded that discussions between owners and prime customers are inevitable with a tacit acknowledgment that a drop in venue hire is on its way.
That is as welcome as it is blatantly logical given the current economic times, but it is a bit of a worry that it’s taken some unorthodox sporting collective to bring sufficient pressure to bear. But the Council will be only too aware of where public sentiment lies at the moment.
However they are unlikely to stop at the Wellington City Council. It may take a while, but the real fun will be when they start taking on the NZRU; an organisation not known for a strong consultation process. For example, this is the final nail in the coffin for a potential repeat of the 2007 Super Rugby devaluation via the Rest and Rotation experiment.
For many reasons we welcome our new benevolent Overlords.
If you want to see the hard copy of this, and you probably do, then buy a copy of this week’s NZ Truth. Page 37