Thursday, 15 March 2012

The climax to the ORFU saga

So a deal has been reached! The Otago Rugby Football Union (ORFU) has staved off liquidation! Just a few short weeks ago liquidation was a fait accompli, now they live to fight another day, in the finest traditions of the battling underdog overcoming the insurmountable odds that is so synonymous with sport.

But the tipping point wasnt't due to money being coughed up by a benevolent benefactor, rather it was the Forsyth Barr Stadium, the fear of losing a tenant and what it would do to facility revenues.

After a seven and a half hour meeting yesterday, the Dunedin City Council has agreed to 'forgive' a $480,000 debt from the ORFU to ensure that professional rugby remained in the city, and more importantly, guaranteed the new stadium at least one rugby tenant. But they were not exactly happy with either the ORFU, and the need to do so. This from Dunedin Mayor, Dave Cull, on the ORFU:
"I think there is pretty much universal agreement that they cocked up, and that they cocked up on a chronic basis. Pretty reprehensible really, but we have to deal with the situation as we find it."
and on reasons for the bailout:
The ORFU was bailed out because "the financial model around the so-called private sector funding component of building the stadium is dependent on revenues from the games that professional rugby play there.
"I'd have to say, before it was being built and right up until now, that was the most imprudent, risk-laden way of financing anything. It was basically pretty stupid, but we've got it, and we have to find a way of maintaining the revenue stream for that, or it falls back on the ratepayer. This deal has avoided that,'' he told Radio Sport.
While I can totally understand the frustrations, and the fact that the DCC have painted themselves into a corner, the story gets murkier yet. Why? Because of this juicy tidbit, revealed later in the article:
Cull said it had been discovered that there were no agreements in place for either the Otago ITM Cup team or the Highlanders to play at the stadium.
''Whether the ORFU went into liquidation or not, DVML was left with a very risky situation, as there were no contracts in place guaranteeing an income stream from professional rugby in our region. DVML had taken on the running of the stadium under the impression that those contracts were in place, underpinning that revenue stream.'' 
I'm sorry? I didn't just hear that. There are NO agreements in place for ANY local rugby teams/franchises to play at the new stadium? The one that is very, very dependent on future revenues from rugby to make ends meet on a regular basis? I have to scratch my head in amazement. It wasn't long ago that the ORFU admitted that they hadn't factored in the cost of playing in the new stadium into their cost projections, and now it emerges that there wasn't in fact anything actually tying them to the new stadium at all? Where is the communication here? What is going on? There really doesn't seem to be any semblance of coordination between two parties who obviously need each other to survive. If this is the state of play with rugby in the new stadium, I'd hate to know what the security of the other anticipated relationships is like.

So, when it boils down to it, the DCC (and the ratepayers who paid for the majority of the Forsyth Barr Stadium) are actually behind the eight ball to the tune of almost $500,000 when they should have been 'ahead' due to the revenues earned from rugby being played at the stadium. The other way you can look at it, I guess, is that it has just cost the DCC and ratepayers almost $500,000 to lock in a rugby presence in the new stadium. Was this cost in the budget for the new stadium? I should think not. And what of the Highlanders? They are higher profile than the ITM Cup. I can just imagine them saying: "Now, Mr Cull, you've just helped out the ORFU. How much do you want to pay us for to play at your swanky new stadium? You need us. Your figures show you'll have a very hard time without us, in fact. There is nothing stopping us from hightailing it elsewhere to other parts of the country for a better deal. Show us the money!". My goodness! Shades of the US professional sports now start to appear before my eyes, ones where franchises and cities are at war with new stadiums smack bang in the middle.

I'm sure that there will be more to this story...


  1. An example of relationship specific assets and the hold-up problem? The ORFU do appear to have gained a large part of the quasi-rents on offer, at the expense of the the Dunedin ratepayers. If I were in Dunedin I'm not sure how happy I would be about all of this.

  2. Absolutely, Paul. What puzzles me is although the FB Stadium is ostensibly a rugby facility, there were no signed agreements in place locking any rugby tenants in almost a year after the place opened. I find that strange to say the least. I guess it is possible that the Stadium might have wanted the ORFU to clear the slate with the Council before committing to the facility? I don't know all the goings-on behind closed doors, but it looks as if the venue has just put itself under massive pressure that it didn't really need. Ratepayers, well ... they are entitled to be asking hard questions now.