State­side War­riors

US buyer’s shock bid

Herald on Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Burgess

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.”

Richard Fale

“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?

Eric Wat­son.

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