US buyer’s shock bid
The Warriors could be going stateside.
A US politician is heading a multi-million dollar consortium, which includes current and former NFL players, in an audacious bid to buy the NRL club.
The group, with representatives in the US, Tonga and New Zealand, want to bring the glitz and glamour of the NFL — as well as American sporting know-how — to the Warriors.
They are believed to have a war chest in the tens of millions and hope to change the face of global sport, by making the Warriors the first professional sporting organisation in the world owned and run by people of Polynesian and Pacific Island heritage.
“In the entire history of professional sports, pretty much until now, Pacific Islanders have essentially been seen as great athletes and players on the field and nothing more beyond that,” syndicate CEO Richard Fale told the Herald on Sunday.
“We perceive this as an opportunity to take that next step in the evolution of Pacific Islanders and sports, something that could move the needle for our communities.
“At the moment we are recognised for our athletic prowess and we are still trying to assert ourselves on the world stage beyond that. We have a shared, unified vision of where we want to take the Pacific community.”
Fale was born in Utah but grew up in Tonga. He moved to Hawaii for university before a stint with the US army, which included time serving in Kuwait. Fale then turned to politics and has been an elected Republican member of the Hawaiian House of Representatives since 2013.
He leads a consortium that includes “five or six” current and former NFL players, most of whom have long standing links with the oval ball.
“If we end up owning the club, I would expect us to be in a position to win a championship by 2020.”
“They had originally all played rugby as little kids,” said Fale.
“Now they are retiring they want to get back to the sport of first love.”
Fale, who has family in Auckland, says the group had been interested in the sports ownership model for a long time, but the economics of US sports, where franchises are valued in the billions, made it prohibitive.
“That is not a field you can make a play in,” said Fale. “Across the major worldwide sports, it leaves you with rugby and rugby league.
“When this opportunity came up we had to look at it. It’s still new for us and there are a lot of differences in the approach to professional sport but we have made a lot of progress.”
As reported in the Weekend Herald yesterday, Fale’s group are seen as the leading contenders to purchase the club from the NRL, although several other parties, including Auckland Rugby League, remain in the mix.
Fale has high hopes for the franchise, which hasn’t made the NRL finals since 2011, churning through five coaches in that time. “If we end up owning the club, I would expect us to be in a position to win a championship by 2020, the 25th anniversary of the club,” said Fale. “I can’t see any reason why that wouldn’t be the case.”
Owner Eric Watson confirmed last August that he was open to selling the club he has held since 2001. It is estimated to be valued about $20m.
Warriors executive chairman Jim Doyle declined to comment on the American bid, only saying: “In regards to the potential sale of the Vodafone Warriors, all of our dealings with any party are private and confidential.”
The head of the TonganAmerican consortium hoping to buy the Warriors is thinking big. Hawaiian politician Richard Fale believes his group, which includes half a dozen current or former NFL players, could take the Auckland club into an unprecedented stratosphere, claiming they could win “more championships than Tom Brady”.
Fale also said if they are able to gain control of the club this year, they would be in a position to claim an inaugural NRL premiership by 2020.
Fale, who has served as a Republican member of the Hawaiian House of Representatives since 2013, is chief executive of the group that includes players who have won Super Bowls.
He says that inherent knowledge of what it takes to achieve ultimate success, mixed with principles learned in the NFL over almost a century, and together with strong investment, could change the fortunes of the Warriors in the NRL.
“We have people in our group that know what a championship organisation looks like and how they operate,” Fale told the Herald on Sunday. “It takes absolute excellence on the field, and off the field. It’s something you can sense within five minutes of walking around an organisation and feeling the culture.”
Based on that, Fale is prepared to make the claim the Warriors could one day outdo New England Patriots legend Brady, who has played (eight) and won (five) more Super Bowls than anyone else in NFL history.
“We believe we could take the Warriors to a point where they are in the finals every year,” said Fale. “And they could win five championships in 10 years, with a better winning percentage than Tom Brady and the Patriots. I see no reason why that wouldn’t be the case.”
Fale’s group includes several Tongan families, with representatives in Hawaii, the United States, Tonga and New Zealand.
Warriors owner, businessman Eric Watson, is believed to be asking $20 million for the NRL franchise.
The NFL is recognised as the most successful domestic sports league in the world. Founded in 1920, it has grown to astronomical proportions.
Although restricted to a 16-game regular season, it has the highest average attendance (more than 67,000) of any sporting league on the planet. It is the most popular of the four major American sports. The 2017-18 champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, paid an average salary of US$2.75 million this season.
Fale thinks all that accumulated knowledge could be transformational in Australasia.
“Look at rugby union — it only became professional in 1996,” said Fale. “It’s the same age the NFL was in 1941. We believe we can take the applicable parts of the expertise we have from the NFL, NBA and MLB and accelerate the growth of rugby league.
What took the NFL 50 years to figure out, we believe we can put rugby league on an accelerated path towards achieving that. I think we would be able to effectively execute that in an organisation like the Warriors. That’s the genesis behind all of this.”
Fale said that for the current and former NFL players among his consortium, the desire to become owners of a sporting franchise was fuelled by their own playing experiences.
“When you are a little kid, your dream is to make it in the NFL, knowing what it could do for you and your family and because you enjoy the combative nature of the game,” said Fale. “But when you make it, after the first five or six years, you kind of realise you are just a pawn on the table.
“It’s the guys who are sitting up in the boxes who have the real money, the real power, the real influence. Because the moment that you leave that field, there is already 10 guys lined up to take your spot.
“So it has been that understanding, that you need to be the guy in the [owner’s] box to really be in a position to influence things and have your voice heard, especially in the field of professional sports.”
Will the Warriors go stateside?