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Fans assured of continuity in Crusaders revamp

Published: 6:24AM Wednesday December 19, 2012 Source: Fairfax

Crusaders chairman Murray Ellis says fans have little to fear from the revamp of the franchise.

The New Zealand Rugby Union announced sweeping changes to how the franchise is managed yesterday.

Although less dramatic than last month's changes to the ownership of the Hurricanes, they still rank as the most radical in the franchise's history.

The team will be run by a new licensee, a consortium made up of majority shareholder the Canterbury Rugby Football Union and the Tasman, Mid-Canterbury, South Canterbury, Buller and West Coast unions, and Brent Francis was officially named as the team's new "investor".

Ellis is adamant that supporters will notice little change and should not be worried that their team is in for a shake-up. "For the fans, it should be business as usual, it doesn't matter where they are from - Karamea, Ashburton or Christchurch - this is still their team," Ellis said.

"Our governance will gradually change but for much of the off-field stuff things should be no different. It's important that things go better than ever under the new licence."

But he hasn't ruled out more radical changes. Although the Crusaders did not look outside New Zealand for backers after the NZRU announced last year that licences could be managed by third parties, the new Crusaders board will be prepared to look for overseas investors in the future.

"That opportunity is still out there for us," Ellis said.

"We haven't dropped the ball on that one at all. We are in need of new facilities and and will be actively looking at ways to upgrade Rugby Park or even to have something out at Lincoln [where New Zealand Cricket has a high performance centre]. We will be looking to capitalise on our opportunities like any other business."

Although the Crusaders have previously investigated how to sign overseas sponsors such as airlines, Ellis defended the decision not to chase a wealthy international benefactor.

Instead Francis, who owns several West Coast mines, will underwrite the consortium, and changes at management level are likely to be modest.

Current chief executive Hamish Riach has been offered the job as Crusaders boss, subject to accepting terms and conditions.

A new six-member board - two nominated by the CRFU, one by the five other unions, two independents, and Francis - will come into being next year.

Riach, who has been working in the dual roles as chief executive for the Crusaders and CRFU since 2001, will not be replaced immediately by the provincial union.

University of Canterbury senior lecturer in economics Seamus Hogan said yesterday that the changes "seem to make sense".

"The parent company [the NZRU] retains control of the income from television rights and the decisions that are germane to that - contracts, competitive balance. At the same time, the subsidiary gets control over gate receipts and the decisions relevant to that.

"Overall, I suspect that there isn't much change, but the formalisation of decentralised ownership of some aspects of the NZRU operation might result in some experimentation and lessons being learnt that all can benefit from."

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