Rugby: Stadium, better record behind profit

Ross Laidlaw
Ross Laidlaw
The Highlanders have logged a financial turnaround of $300,000 enabling them to announce a small profit yesterday.

They reported a profit of $71,000 for the financial year ended August 31, 2012, but it does not appear to have brought the franchise any closer to finding a private partner.

The Highlanders turning a profit looked a forlorn hope a few years ago, with the team in the gloom both on and off the field.

But they have gone into the black thanks to a new stadium and better performances on the field.

Highlanders chairman Ross Laidlaw said the result was a very positive outcome for the franchise.

''The separation from the Otago Rugby Football Union in 2010, and the work done over the past two years by the board, staff, management and players has been significant and this positive result was expected. We are now on track to deliver under our independent business model,'' he said.

The profit was made through increasing income and keeping a tight lid on expenses, Laidlaw said.

The franchise averaged just under 17,000 for home games at its first year at Forsyth Barr Stadium and there was increased support from the business community.

''One of the significant factors is the new stadium. And having a winning team undoubtedly helps.''

The Highlanders missed the playoffs last season but were in contention the whole season.

Laidlaw said a small profit had been forecast. The Crusaders had posted a similar profit of $87,147 for the same period.

Laidlaw said the profit represented a turnaround of about $300,000 from the previous year.

He declined to say what the budgeted profit was for next year.

The board was confident the profit and the turnaround of the franchise signalled the beginning of a bright future for the Highlanders.

''There is still a good deal of hard work required. However, we believe the Highlanders have a sustainable business model based out of Forsyth Barr Stadium.''

Although the profit is not massive, franchises have the big pay days when they make the playoffs and get to share in the gate.

The Highlanders did not make the top six so did not have the benefit of getting any bonus cash.

But any profit must be pleasing as it looked unattainable a few years back. The New Zealand Rugby Union was forced to underwrite the franchise in 2009 for the following two years as its expenses outweighed its revenue.

New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew said earlier this year it had pumped about $1 million into the franchise in those years.

Playing at a rundown Carisbrook with a losing record had not been great for the balance sheet.

Despite the improved financial performance, the Highlanders are unlikely to go anywhere near private investment.

The Highlanders were not part of the process to seek private ownership of Super 15 franchises. The Hurricanes and Crusaders have both awarded licences to private partners in recent weeks.

Laidlaw said, although he could not speak for the NZRU, the Highlanders franchise was never a candidate for going into the privatisation process, and nothing had changed.