25 Feb 2021

Fijian Super Rugby team needs $NZ10m

4:08 pm on 25 February 2021

The Fiji Rugby Union needs to raise $NZ10 million by the end of March to keep its Super Rugby dream alive.

The Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika were announced in November as New Zealand Rugby's preferred partners to join an expanded 12-team competition in 2022, subject to meeting a range of conditions.

The Fijian Drua will host the Australian NRC final after beating Canberra in Lautoka.

The Fijian Drua previously competed in Australia National Rugby Championship. Photo: Fiji Rugby

FRU Chair, Conway Beg, said they need to demonstrate that a Super Rugby franchise in Fiji will be financially sustainable.

"We have to get the capital in place. Otherwise we won't be able to make the dream a reality."

The new entrant will need to meet stringent financial conditions set down by New Zealand Rugby Union which include the requirement to hold substantial cash assets and provide financial guarantees to ensure the team's long term viability.

FRU Chief Executive Officer, John O'Connor, said securing private investment is a fact of life for sporting teams and franchises around the world.

"The discussions have been positive and we hope to see something and be able to satisfy the requirements from New Zealand Rugby before the end of March hopefully to seal our position in next years Super Rugby competition," he said.

"10 million New Zealand dollars is almost our entire budget for a year for the Drua but depending on the interest from private equity there is shareholding and we're looking at selling off about 15 to 20 percent of the franchise."

Fiji Rugby Union CEO John O'Connor shakes hands with new FRU Chairman Conway Beg.

FRU CEO John O'Connor and Chairman Conway Beg. Photo: Supplied/Fiji Rugby

Fiji Rugby's Commercial General Manager, Brian Thorburn, is in talks with at least eight different parties from across the globe about buying into the Drua and is confident of getting a deal across the line.

"There's strong interest. We haven't by any means done a deal yet but we're engaged with those people. We've got a very comprehensive Memorandum (of Understanding) and business plan, each 40 and 140 pages," he said.

"We've done the hard work and that's all now been laid out in front of investors and hopefully they'll say, 'yep that makes sense, let's go'."

Thorburn has been with Fiji Rugby since 2017 and spent 12 years as Commercial Director for Rugby Australia. He said the FRU would "ideally" strike a deal with a single investor but would also be happy for a group of three or four people to come on board.

"You've got to have fit and proper investors: people who have got good track records and are in it for the right reasons, you've got to have enough cash in the bank to be able to pay the bills and particularly with a new franchise you're going to have up-front costs before revenues start rolling," he said.

"You've got to have a framework of guarantees and underwriting that ensures that when and if a franchise gets into strife it's got enough backing to be able to deal with that without putting up a white flag."

"It's a shared vision of New Zealand Rugby and Fiji Rugby that we want this to be viable and be able to withstand any ups and down and be there for 20 years not for four years."

The Flying Fijians are all smiles after another try.

A host of Flying Fijians stars would be expected to sign for a local Super Rugby team. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Covid-19 has brought additional complications to the table, with Super Rugby Trans Tasman and the prospect of international travel between Fiji, New Zealand and Australia still up in the air.

The FRU is expecting to play at least six home games a year but John O'Connor said it remained focused on showing New Zealand Rugby the Drua can be financially sustainable.

"It's not normal times and everybody is going through challenges and difficulties but we are committed to the process and it's made us work harder to try and fill in the criteria and try and get this over the board. Super Rugby is the missing link to our pathway," he said.

"The Super rugby games held in Fiji in recent years show the passion of our fans and support for Super Rugby, and with a Fijian team representing our country, we are very confident that the local Fijians will turn out to passionately support the Drua."

Crusaders lock Luke Romano wins a lineout against the Chiefs in their Super Rugby match in Suva earlier this year.

The Crusaders vs the Chiefs in Suva in 2017. Photo: Photosport

If the Drua are given the green light to join Super Rugby, the franchise will be set up as a separate entity from the Fiji Rugby Union, with its own CEO, board and administration.

The Fijian side intends to contract 37 players for its inaugural season, supported by 28 coaching and administration staff, and John O'Connor said a number of European based players have indicated they are keen to be involved.

"We've already had discussions with them. Depending on the outcome then we hope to be having discussions with their agents - some of them are coming off contracts and we are eagerly waiting because 2022 is not far. That's why we are working very hard to try and get the process over so we can sign."

Fiji's rugby sevens team was honoured with a seven dollar banknote to celebrate the team's victory at the 2016 Rio Olympics. If a Super Rugby team based in Suva gets across the line, Brian Thorburn thinks the Fiji Government might have to issue another special run.

"In ten or 15 years or 20 years time who knows - the effect of this Super Rugby team on the Flying Fijians: building combinations, keeping our best talent and bringing them on to play for their country rather than play for other countries, who's to say we won't be knocking on the door of the Prime Minister and asking for a fifteen dollar note when we win the World Cup."