Kiwis test in Denver cost New Zealand Rugby League more than $300K

Michael Burgess, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sunday, 7 July 2019, 12:57PM
The governing body has explored legal avenues but admits it holds no hopes of retrieving any of the outstanding money. (Photo / Getty)
The governing body has explored legal avenues but admits it holds no hopes of retrieving any of the outstanding money. (Photo / Getty)

The New Zealand Rugby League has written off debts of more than $300,000 related to the controversial Denver test in June 2018.

The NZRL held its annual general meeting in Auckland last week and chairman Reon Edwards outlined the results for the past financial year which included 'doubtful debts' of $310,000.

That's the amount match promoter Moore Sports International owes the NZRL as part of the contractual agreement after the match against England in North America last year.

The governing body has explored legal avenues but admits it holds no hopes of retrieving any of the outstanding money.

For a cash-strapped organisation such as the NZRL — it declared a deficit of $704,000 for the year ended March 31, 2019 — it's a significant blow.

The NZRL expected to make a decent amount from the mid-year test in Colorado but the venture has instead had a marked negative impact on their bottom line.

Though no one could have forecast a default by the promoter, the result underlines the risk involved with the Denver experiment.

The NZRL had talked about taking the game to new markets such as the United States and there was a need to find different content for the representative weekend, with Australia walking away from the Anzac test after almost two decades.

There was also a desire to provide content for the US market ahead of the proposed 2025 League World Cup in North America.

But the main incentive was financial, with the NZRL needing to explore new revenue streams.

It's understood the three-year agreement to play in Denver offered close to $1 million in income for the NZRL, which then-chief executive Alex Hayton and the board decided was worth the stretch.

But the idea was unpopular with NRL clubs, who objected to their players flying across multiple time zones, playing a test at altitude, then rushing back in time for the next club round.

Moore Sports International covered the flights and accommodation for the Denver test, as well as an initial percentage of the promised match fee.

"We received a very small portion of the total," said NZRL chief executive Greg Peters, who confirmed the national body had not received any other payments but had honoured all its obligations.

It's understood the Rugby Football League, the governing body for professional league in England, didn't receive any of its agreed match fee.

The Denver debacle and less than expected gate takings from the Kangaroos test last October ($137,000 down on the forecast) and the Kiwis tour of England contributed to the overall 2019 financial result.

However, as Edwards pointed out at the AGM, the NZRL has reasons to be positive about the future.

It has retained all existing sponsors and added Sky Television to the mix, allowing an enhanced Kiwi Ferns and Junior Kiwis programme.

The success of the Tonga test in Auckland last month — with more than 23,000 fans attracted — provided a template of what is possible for future mid-year tests, especially as the strength of the Pacific nations continue to rise.

There is also a credible international calendar in place for this year and beyond, providing an attractive proposition for sponsors, broadcasters and fans, as the Kiwis have four more tests, including three in New Zealand.

Perhaps most importantly, the Kiwis brand, under the leadership of coach Michael Maguire and captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, has bounced back after a disappointing 2017 World Cup on home soil, with victories over Australia and Tonga, and a narrow series loss in England last year.

With all these factors in the mix, the NZRL is predicting a return to profit of around $200,000 at the end of the next financial year.