Super Rugby 2024: Melbourne Rebels saved by private equity, sharing stadium with A-League club, Western United, Tarneit, former Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford leading consortium

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The Melbourne Rebels may be saved by an 11th hour private equity cash injection that will see the bankrupt Super Rugby side relocate and share facilities with an A-League club.

A private equity-backed consortium led by former Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford says it’s close to raising $30 million to invest into the struggling Rebels.

The Rebels looked set to see out this season and then dissolve after being placed into voluntary administration in January with debts exceeding $23 million.

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But now there are plans to relocate the club to Melbourne’s western suburbs where a 15,000-seat stadium is being built in Tarneit for A-League side Western United.

Rugby Australia took back the Rebels’ licence when it entered administration and the consortium would need the support of the governing body to save the club.

The consortium released a statement on Wednesday stating they have nearly raised between $20 million and $30 million from private equity.

“This would be the game changer that the Melbourne Rebels and the sport of rugby desperately needs in Victoria,” consortium spokesperson and current Melbourne Rebels director Georgia Widdup said.

“We have an exciting vision and a detailed, common-sense plan to grow the sport of rugby in the fastest-growing municipality in Australia.

“The Rebels are committed to the women’s game, the Pasifika community and important programs for the western region’s youth and this move will enable us to significantly expand these critical areas.

“This is an opportunity to grow rugby’s grassroots supporter base and attract significant new private investment to make the game sustainable into the future.

“We are passionate about keeping rugby in Victoria but we realise for the Rebels and the sport generally to thrive we need to innovate and be smarter.”

Western United are supportive of the consortium’s plans to share the stadium in Tarneit.

THE FULL STATEMENT

A private equity-backed consortium is in the final stages of high-level talks to move the Melbourne Rebels women’s and men’s professional rugby Club to Melbourne’s fast-growing western suburbs.

Under the innovative masterplan, the Melbourne Rebels would negotiate a deal with Western Melbourne Group which would see them sharing the Wyndham Regional Football Facility in Tarneit with the Western United Women’s and Men’s A-League teams.

Led by Leigh Clifford, the former Chair of Qantas and former CEO of Rio Tinto, the consortium he has assembled are all a part of the Melbourne business community that see the benefit of keeping professional women’s and men’s rugby in Victoria, but equally see the benefit of their first of its kind business model for Super Rugby, based out in the West of Melbourne.

The Melbourne Rebels consortium is well on the way to raising $20-$30 million from private equity to invest in the Rebels over a number of years.

The Federal Government and Wyndham City Council have been briefed on the plan over recent months.

There are obvious synergies and cost efficiencies between the sporting codes which would see both Western United and the Melbourne Rebels share a community-based facility and growth strategy. Wyndham is home to one of the largest Pasifika communities and already has a large Rugby Union fan base in the West of Melbourne.

The deal will include playing games in the recently opened 5000 capacity stadium and the 15,000 capacity stadium which is anticipated to be ready for the 2026/27 A-League Season and the 2027 Rugby World Cup.

The broader precinct owned by Western Melbourne Group in partnership with Wyndham City Council, features a 1000+ residential estate and over 100,000sqm of commercial land, which is earmarked to be the centrepiece of Wyndham’s Riverdale town centre and proposed Oakbank PSP.

Jason Sourasis, the Chairman of Western Melbourne Group, the parent company of the Western United Football Club, said: “The Western Melbourne Group’s vision has always been to host Multi Sports and create a vibrant city underpinned by sports, education, health and wellness.

“We are proud to have created only the second rectangular stadium in Victoria that is built for both men and women and is already A-League and Rugby Union compliant.

There are obvious synergies hosting both Western United and the Melbourne Rebels and naturally, we are keen to explore those opportunities,’’ said Mr Sourasis, who is also Executive Chairman of Western United FC.

“Our first Women’s A-League game at Tarneit last month was a great success and this Saturday the 6th of April we take another huge step with the first Men’s A-League game at the facility. The growth of both our organisations will come from connecting with the local community and providing a precinct that the region can be proud to call their own.

“We welcome the opportunity to continue to achieve that connection in close collaboration with the Melbourne Rebels women’s and men’s teams.’’

Consortium spokesperson and current Melbourne Rebels Director Georgia Widdup said the move to Tarneit “would be the game-changer that the Melbourne Rebels and the sport of rugby desperately needs in Victoria’’.

“We have an exciting vision and a detailed, common sense plan to grow the sport of rugby in the fastest growing municipality in Australia,’’ Ms Widdup said.

“The Rebels are committed to the women’s game, the Pasifika community and important programs for the western region’s youth and this move will enable us to significantly expand these critical areas.’’

The Rebels club was placed into voluntary administration earlier this year and is restructuring for a bright future for the game, in one of the fastest growing rugby corridors in the country.

“The Tarneit Masterplan is a new financial model for our club, teams, our players and our fans that is sustainable and embraces our future, not our past,’’ said Ms Widdup.

“This is an opportunity to grow rugby’s grassroots supporter base and attract significant new private investment to make the game sustainable into the future,’’ she said.

“We are passionate about keeping rugby in Victoria but we realise for the Rebels and the sport generally to thrive we need to innovate and be smarter.’’

“We are also impressed by the vision of the facility and future of the precinct in respect to a core focus on the women’s game. As the first Super Rugby Club to pay its professional women players in Australia, we are focussed on continuing to develop the women’s game and we believe this provides us that opportunity to once again lead the sport”.

Rugby Union in Victoria has seen major expansion over the last decade throughout some of the fastest growing Pasifika communities in the country; through its growth in State school curriculum programs; and through its community Clubs that have embraced diversity and the women’s game in a leadership capacity.

Rugby’s investment through the State Government in the North at our State Centre of Excellence at La Trobe where women will be based for training and high performance, our investment in Clubs in the South East, and now our ground-breaking professional model in the West of the city, make rugby a game for all,’’ said Ms Widdup.

“Combined with the greatest sporting facilities in Australia in AAMI Park, Marvel Stadium and the MCG, we intend to continue to bring rugby to all of the Victorian community, and we look forward to being an integral part of the innovation and work that Jason and the Western Melbourne Group are doing in the West of Melbourne.’’

Originally published as ‘Game changer’: Rebels handed 11th hour $30m lifeline in shock A-League partnership plan

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