The new Melbourne Rebels owners see Super Rugby’s push into South America and Asia as a major upside after buying the club from the Australian Rugby Union (ARU).
Private investment group Imperium Sports Management (ISM), headed by Melbourne businessman Andrew Cox and Peter Sidwell, a former chairman of A-League club Melbourne Heart (now City), will take ownership of the club from July 1.
Cox will take over from chief executive Peter Leahy.
The ARU has been in control of the franchise since the original owner Harold Mitchell passed over the reins to it in 2013.
Since then, it had cost the ARU $6.3 million and, while the sale sum was undisclosed, Cox and Sidwell felt they had a good deal.
“The game’s got a real future,” Sidwell said.
“There’s some internationalisation going on that everybody is aware of and we think the medium term and long term, it’s very sustainable.”
The Super Rugby competition will expand to 18 teams from next year which excites ISM.
“That’s probably the single most exciting thing about it,” Cox said.
“We’re taking Melbourne literally to the world.
“There’s no other code that’s doing that and that’s exciting from a brand perspective and we think it’s a great opportunity to create a Rebels global network with people who have a connection to Melbourne or want a connection.”
Up to their seventh CEO since 2011, ISM said stability was a major priority.
“There has been too much change – at a player level as well, but we think the football department is in great shape under Tony McGahan, who is a great leader,” Sidwell said.
“We want to leverage off of that.”
ARU general manager of professional rugby, marketing and operations Rob Clarke, who was at the Rebels before moving to the national body, said the men behind ISM had a proven track record of successfully transforming under-performing businesses.
He said their experience in sports administration and business boded well for the Rebels.
“They are both fine men, both very experienced businessmen, who are well known in the Melbourne marketplace and I think the Rebels are in very safe hands,” Clarke said.