The New Zealand Rugby Union have begun negotiations with four provincial unions about managing and operating four of New Zealand's five Super 15 franchises.
Five bidders put their names forward when the NZRU sought expressions of interest to hold licences for the Crusaders, Hurricanes, Chiefs and Blues. The Highlanders were not included because the NZRU are exploring different options for the southern franchise.
The Auckland and Taranaki rugby union have previously indicated they have made bids and it's widely believed both Wellington and Canterbury have also bid.
At least one proposal has been received for each franchise, with Taranaki indicating they were interested in the Hurricanes or Chiefs.
"A decision was made yesterday... to begin individual negotiations with four of the five proposals we have received," NZRU chief executive Steve Tew said after yesterday's board meeting.
"All four of those are provincial union-based and there's a lot of work to be done now to get them to a point where we take their proposal to a recommendation to the board."
Tew said their target was to still have new licence holders in place for next year's Super Rugby season.
The NZRU announced late last year they were looking at ways of injecting new capital into a model they admit is broken in its current form. It's an idea, however, that has drawn considerable criticism for offering little in return for capital.
The holders will have the ability to market and select their franchise teams, however the players and coaches will still be centrally contracted by the NZRU, who will also look after the Highlanders.
Tew also said they were still looking into staging a North vs South rugby match in Dunedin in June to help raise funds for the Otago union but were wary of it disrupting the Super Rugby competition. The match has been pencilled in for June when Super Rugby takes a three-week break for internationals.
"We are working through that with some speed because we want to make sure we have everything in place as quickly as possible because it has the potential to be a bit disruptive to the franchises so we want to get that right," he said.
"We are working on timing, the appointment of coaches, how teams are selected, what they will wear and how long they assemble for."
It's one idea to help raise money for the cash-strapped union, who recently staved off liquidation with the help of the Dunedin City Council, who will write off $480,000 worth of debts owed to them, and NZRU.
A group of locals, led by Sir Eion Edgar, have also pledged to match public fundraising dollar for dollar.
"We are hopeful the majority of the 180 local creditors will be paid," Tew said. "Those under a certain amount, I think the line is going to be drawn about $2000, will be paid at 100 per cent. Those above will get a percentage which might be nearer 50 cents in the dollar. That is significantly better than it would have been if we let them go into liquidation."
A new constitution is being worked through and a new board will be in place in the next two or three weeks but Tew said it could take six to eight weeks before the process is complete.
He emphasised the help given to Otago was not a precedent and unions needed to live within their means. He was encouraged by the fact there were no breaches of the salary cap last year and unions like Wellington, Waikato, Taranaki and King Country had all posted modest profits in recent times on the back of significant losses over the last three years.