Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Blues sale nearly over the line

A syndicate keen on bankrolling and running the Blues hopes the deal will be completed soon.

Talks between the group, headed by businessman Murray Bolton, and the NZRU have advanced as the Blues' playing fortunes have improved.

The syndicate plans a multimillion-dollar investment with a new board set up to run the Blues next season amid ideas about creating an enhanced professional set-up.

While the Blues will continue to play at Eden Park, one idea is that they will work and train at a new venue away from their current set-up in Mt Albert.

Any plans will have to be ratified by a new six-person board made up of three independent members and three from the Auckland, North Harbour and Northland unions.

A new executive would manage the team and contract out other services while the Auckland union, who have often doubled up on Blues duty, will be left to concentrate more on the ITM Cup and club rugby.

The NZRU likes the scheme because it cuts some of their risk, gives them a cash injection and should sharpen franchise governance.

Stakeholders also believe it will decrease some of the petty bickering among member provinces, conflict about player signings and feelings that the Blues have been used to fix Auckland's woes at the expense of other provinces.

"It's going well, it's close to being finished. We are preparing legal documents," NZRU chief executive Steve Tew confirmed yesterday.

"That was the last information I had at the board meeting and, of course, until people sign it. We've had draft agreements looked at for a long time. I'd be surprised if it's not done in the next two or three weeks."

When contacted about the deal, Bolton confirmed it was progressing. "There's no sense though in me adding anything at this stage," he said.

Bolton owns Corporate Cabs, is chairman of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust and is a former chief executive of Brierley Investments and the Skellerup Group.

He is apparently passionate about rugby and has grandiose long-term ideas about creating an improved professional Blues franchise to rival other global sporting groups.

Tew said a new board would determine any changes. "They're going to run the place, they're taking the risk and they can do what they like within the realms of being sensible," he said.

Their board structure of independents and franchise partners would determine the Blues strategies.

"It may or may not be the right thing to do to move it but that group taking the risk, proportionally, will have a say in what the decision is," said Tew.

"Their say is proportional to their investment."

The Crusaders and Hurricanes have adopted similar management schemes.

Tew said the latest deal for the Blues had undergone some changes and it had taken a while to get all the boxes ticked. Once the syndicate had settled on their current option, the agreement went smoothly.

The NZRU is not selling any intellectual property, will keep the trademark and patents, and will continue to contract players and coaches.

- NZ Herald

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