Melbourne Victory A-League (football) club has emerged as a shock bidder for the Super 15 expansion licence which could ignite a battle between the state rugby bodies and the Australian Rugby Union for control of the game.
Asked yesterday by the Australian whether he was behind a second Melbourne consortium bidding for the Super 15 licence in opposition to the Victorian Rugby Union, Melbourne Victory owner and chairman Geoff Lord simply replied: “No comment”.
But Lord, the former president of the Hawthorn Football Club, previously has not ruled out branching out into other football codes if Victory’s stockholders requested it. And a number of other Melbourne sources have confirmed that Lord is behind the previously undisclosed second Victorian bid.
The revelation of the Melbourne Victory bid coincided with the resignations yesterday of three members of the seven-person VRU board, Nick Farnan, Glenn Fowles and Craig Dunn over what Farnan described as “governance concerns” with the VRU.
Earlier this week The Australian revealed disquiet within the VRU that its president, Gary Gray, was being undermined by the ARU, the same body that, in the first instance, will vet expressions of interest to be lodged with it by July 22 before deciding which bids will be asked to make full applications to be submitted to SANZAR on September 18. The winning bid will be announced on October 31.
Even though Gray was supported last Friday by an 18-0 vote of Victorian club presidents who also empowered him to seek the resignation of dissident directors, the resignation of almost half the VRU board is hardly likely to improve its chances of having the ARU endorse its Super 15 bid.
The revelation by senior ARU administrator Matt Carroll yesterday that he had met the second Victorian consortium while in Melbourne for the June 20 second Test against Italy has heightened fears within the VRU that the state body could be sidelined.
“We knew there was a group down there interested,” said Carroll who, like ARU chief executive John O’Neill, is well-acquainted with Lord and the Melbourne Victory from the period when they both worked for Football Federation of Australia in setting up the A-League.
“One would think at the end of the day there’s only room for one group coming out of Melbourne.”
There is almost no chance of the VRU inviting Lord into its consortium, or vice versa, although several elements of their bids will overlap, most significantly the fact both plan to play at the new state-of-the-art rectangular stadium that will come online in Melbourne’s Olympic precinct next March.
The Victorian government, which is building the stadium, has been a solid supporter of the VRU bid, but at the end of the day its primary concern is in securing reliable tenants for the new complex.
The Melbourne Victory operation could easily accommodate a rugby component on top of its soccer program since the A-League is played throughout the summer while the Super 15 will run from February-August.
Victoria is not the only state rugby union alarmed at the prospect of the national body aligning itself with a private corporation, especially since the ARU has already flagged it intends seriously to investigate private equity ownership models for its other four existing Super 14 franchises.
Carroll revealed that the licences of all existing Australian Super rugby franchises will expire at the end of next year – when the broadcast agreement runs out.
And while logic suggests that the Reds would remain under the control of the Queensland Rugby Union, the Waratahs under the NSWRU, the Brumbies under the ACTRU and the Western Force under Rugby WA, there seemingly would be no impediment to the ARU re-allocating Super 15 licences to private consortiums if it saw the need.
At the very least, the threat of taking the licences away from them – even if the brand names remain state-owned – would be an effective means of steering reluctant state bodies down the private-equity route.
“It’s possible,” one state chairman admitted when that scenario was put to him yesterday. “It’s very possible.”
The premature revelation of the Victory bid is certain to dramatically raise the stakes at Tuesday’s meeting of state chairmen with the ARU.
“There is nothing that is off the table,” said ARU chairman Peter McGrath, referring to the meeting.
“Private equity will definitely be discussed. We want to introduce additional capital. It works in the UK and France, but no one size fits all and we don’t want to make the same mistakes made in those countries.”
With thanks to The Australian.