Kings: American link - Separating fact from fiction

Mon, 19 Dec 2016 04:48

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Jan de Koning attempts to separate fact from fiction in Eastern Province Kings' American connection.

So the Eastern Province Kings' proposed American benefactor, Douglas Schoninger, pulled the plug on the attempt to revive the bankrupt union.

No, wait, the South African Rugby Union pulled the plug on the plan by the Chief Executive of Pro Rugby North America, Schoninger, to bring in new revenue streams that could save the Kings.  

What, you say it is USA Rugby that actually put a spanner in the works?

The subterfuge surrounding the reasons for the decision to put on hold the Kings' rescue plan is as flustering and as dismaying as anything that happened in SA rugby this past year.

When news broke last month that the Pro Rugby boss, Schoninger, had contacted SARU with a proposal that a partnership between the two could salvage the wreck that is the Kings, the Eastern Cape started to celebrate.

It seemed the proposal was on track to fruition when - at a couple of informal meetings in London - Schoninger and new SARU President Mark Alexander met to discuss a possible collaboration between the two organisations.

However, last week SARU poured cold water on claims that Schoninger will be the Kings' saviour.

"Reports of an imminent investment in the Kings are grossly exaggerated and entirely misleading," a SARU statement said.

"The EPRU Union is currently in liquidation and only the liquidator can speak on its behalf - no other party has those rights.

"While in relation to the Southern Kings and an American investment, USA Rugby gave a clear indication that they do not support this process.

"SA Rugby has referred all such approaches back to USA Rugby and the liquidator."

It seemed to suggest the entire deal is dead in the water and that USA Rugby - not Schoninger, nor SARU - are to blame for this.

However, Schoninger, in an exclusive interview with rugby365, said there is "much misinformation" in all the reports surrounding Pro Rugby's attempts to invest in the Kings and that the deal could still happen - sometime in the future.

"We are still hopeful we can be involved with [the] EPRU," Schoninger told this website.

"There are issues that SARU and EPRU need to sort out prior to having discussions with a third party.

"We look forward to hearing back from SARU," he added.

He admitted that much must happen before talks can get back on track, but he is willing to wait for SARU and the Kings to get their house in order before he resumes discussions with either.

He also dismissed the suggestion that the controlling body of the game in the United States, USA Rugby, is against the move.

"USA Rugby has told us and SARU, that since it does not know the details of the partnership they can not issue support," Schoninger said in the interview with rugby365.

"I agree and second that, as we do not know the details ourselves.

"USA Rugby will support a plan, if presented, as it will be constructive to the growth of the game in the USA."

He confirmed that PRO Rugby North America is sanctioned by USA Rugby.

However, there is no ownership interest in either party by the other.

"We would not need USA Rugby approval to invest in a team in SA, or anywhere," he said, adding: "This would be a private transaction between SARU and Pro Rugby.

"We would need USA Rugby to sanction foreign players and coaches to play in the USA.

"Last year USA Rugby approved about 20 international players and coaches to play in the USA with no issue or objection."

He added that Pro Rugby has no plan to intrude in the business of SARU or thrust themselves into the affairs of others in the SA rugby landscape.

"Our position is: If SARU feels that we can help find a solution to the EP situation, then we will be very eager to try.

"On the other hand, if SARU does not want our help or involvement we will completely respect that and discontinue our efforts."

Schoninger went on to say that the EP Kings issue is "a work in progress".  

"None of the details have been worked out," he said.

"I believe that a partnership between SARU and Pro Rugby would be mutually beneficial - to SARU, by giving them new revenue streams, and for us by allowing us to leverage some of the player and coaching skills we need in the USA as the game grows here.
"We [also] have discussions ongoing with other rugby countries.

"As each country has a different structure, each conversation is different.
"At the risk of repeating myself, things are still quite early on and there are many details that have to be worked out to make sure a partnership works for both sides.  

"I am hopeful we can reach a mutually beneficial agreement if both sides have the will to do so."

Schoninger, a New York financier, thinks America is ready for another professional sport.

In April he launched Pro Rugby, a five-team league.

While rugby is a big business in many countries, in the US it is mainly a collegiate and amateur game.

Schoninger started small, but feels that within three years the sport will be popular enough, and revenues from ticket sales, merchandising, broadcasting and sponsorships will be large enough to make Pro Rugby profitable.

Schoninger, 55, is owner and CEO of Stadium Capital Financing Group, a company that provides financing for stadium construction, renovation and expansion.

By Jan de Koning

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