DRAGONS REIGNITE DEBATE ON PRIVATE OWNERSHIP

NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS have announced radical plans to establish themselves as a fully independent region with a view to attracting fresh investment. The side are currently jointly owned by Newport RFC and the Welsh Rugby Union, but the proposals would see both parties transferring their shares to new owners once the Dragons’ Board of Directors is satisfied with their investment plans and intentions for the region.

Chief executive Stuart Davies has been working on the proposal with the Dragons’ Board for the last year. He hopes that this landmark decision will lead to improved results and a much brighter future for the team (who currently sit 10th in the Guinness Pro 12 table with only four wins from 19 matches so far this season, and have been Wales’ bottom finishers in the league in nine out of the last eleven years), whilst also providing greater clarity and direction for the business at large.

“The search can begin in earnest now for the people who wish to take a place at Welsh rugby’s top table and embark on what could be a great adventure,” said Davies.

Under the plans, the region’s balance sheet will be significantly improved via the capitalisation of loans and writing off of debts, meaning that any new investment can be injected straight into the business and the rugby team. Whilst Newport RFC will maintain ownership of Rodney Parade, the Dragons will sign a lease with them to continue to play at the ground and run the venue. The arrangement will provide Newport RFC with visibility and security of income, and allow them to focus entirely on running a successful Premiership side. A shareholders’ meeting will be called shortly.

It is not clear at the moment if Davies and his fellow directors already have a specific individual or group in mind when they speak of finding new owners.

Office equipment magnate Tony Brown, who effectively owns Rodney Parade through his patronage of Newport RFC and previously invested over £10 million into the region attracting a raft of southern hemisphere stars between 1999 and 2006, returned as a non-executive director on the board in 2011. But whether the soon-to-be-80-year-old, who suffered a brain tumour nine years ago, would be in a position to throw himself into such a significant undertaking is doubtful.

Dylan Matthews, the chief executive of Celtic Manor golf resort, has also served on the board since February 2011, and although he has insisted that his contribution relates to his business acumen rather than his financial muscle, the son of Wales’ first billionaire [Sir Terry Matthews] certainly has friends in the right places.

This news from Wales is destined to reignite the debate about whether it is feasible for either of Scotland’s two professional teams, or indeed a brand new entity, to survive (and eventually prosper) as a fully independent organisation.

Scotland had one ill-fated attempt at loosening the Murrayfield apron strings when the Carruthers brothers franchised Edinburgh Rugby from the governing body ten years ago. That ended in petty squabbling and increasingly childish point scoring, and it is hard to imagine those who run the Scottish Rugby Union at the moment even countenancing any proposition which might endanger their all-encompassing control of the game in this country.

However, SRU chief executive Mark Dodson admitted in a recent newspaper interview that he expects it to become increasingly difficult to compete with the financial muscle of privately owned clubs in France and England, who have some heavyweight backers as well as far bigger commercial and television markets.

He conceded that it may become necessary to find a different way of doing things in the future. Private money may still be the only credible long-term future for the professional game in Scotland – but would anybody be willing to invest? And would the SRU be willing to relinquish control?

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David Barnes
About David Barnes 1363 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.