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TicketDirect founder Matt Davey leads new Highlanders ownership

TicketDirect founder Matt Davey leads new Highlanders ownership
December 4, 2015

A group of South Island-based private investors have been granted a five-year licence to operate reigning Super Rugby champions the Highlanders, in a move that safeguards the franchise's future until the end of 2020.

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) announced last week that a four-member group headed by Dunedin businessman Matthew Davey – the founder and Chief Executive of ticketing agency Ticket Direct – had secured the licensing agreement.

The investors have a 77% stake in the franchise – a significantly higher proportion than investors hold in New Zealand's four other teams.

The Highlanders provincial unions retain a 13% share and NZR hold the remaining 10% for at least two years.

Following the announcement, NZR Chief Executive Steve Tew advised “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.

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

NZR retain ownership of the brands associated with each team and continue to fund player and head coach contracts, plus one assistant coach, from broadcasting and sponsorship revenue.

The new venture is being underwritten by a guarantee from the Invercargill City Council in exchange for one Highlanders game at Rugby Park per season. The 2016 season will see the city host the Brumbies on 30th April.

Tew explained "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.

"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."

Commenting on behalf of the new investor group, Davey stated “for those who love rugby (like our group) it was simply too good an opportunity to pass up.

"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 (Chief Executive), Jamie Joseph (Head Coach) 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."

The consortium also includes Christchurch-based businessman Warren Goddard,  Tasman Rugby Union President Shane Drummond and digital marketer Raymond Burke. 

Doug Harvie, who chairs the seven-member board of the new operating company, was delighted the franchise's future had been clarified.

Harvie stated "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.”

With the operation of New Zealand’s five Super Rugby teams owned by New Zealand Rugby when originally set up, subsequent reviews into the financial sustainability and structure of the franchises identified the need to reinvigorate the franchise model and provide for additional investment to improve its financial sustainability.

In 2011, NZR began inviting expressions of interest for the Super Rugby franchises, although concern over the Highlanders financial state and viability meant they were not originally included when the sale process launched.

Amid rumours that a potential Singapore-based group were interested in taking control of the Highlanders - and move some of their games to Asia – the new ownership secures their future in the South Island.

Davey explained that the potential overseas takeover did motivate the group who will now inject substantial new capital into the 2015 Super Rugby champions.

He stated "we started this process a year ago when we heard about Singapore, well before we had the excitement of the run through to the play-offs and the trophy.”

For Davey, his “emotional attachment” to the Highlanders goes back to how TicketDirect was established in 1999 – Davey founding the company to provide the Otago Rugby Football Union with a ticketing system.

As he explains "I've loved this team since day one. I started my company in 1999, the year they made the final.

“We've been a sponsor ever since and when this opportunity came up to ensure the future of the Highlanders staying down here, that's what I jumped at."

The Highlanders, who clinched their first Super Rugby title in July, have also secured sponsorship from energy retailer Pulse Energy which will see them known as the Pulse Energy Highlanders from next season.

Images: Matt Davey (middle) and the players show the new Pulse Energy Highlanders sponsorship (below).

13th November 2015 - SANZAR TO STAGE SUPER RUGBY FIXTURE IN FIJI

23rd September 2015 - FORSYTH BARR STADIUM WELCOMES MORE THAN A MILLION EVENT PATRONS

18th May 2015 - NEW MANAGEMENT OF INVERCARGILL’S RUGBY PARK TO DELIVER NEW OPPORTUNITIES

16th July 2014 - TICKETING REVOLUTION FOR NEW ZEALAND PROVINCIAL RUGBY

3rd September 2013 - TICKETDIRECT’S ACQUISITION OF DASH TICKETS TO ENABLE GROWTH IN NEW ZEALAND TICKETING SECTOR

13th November 2012 - MANAGEMENT CHANGES IN NEW ZEALAND SUPER RUGBY


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