The Southern Kings’ newly appointed board’s first bit of business will be to convince sponsors Isuzu not to walk out on their contract.
Having been named on Friday by SA Rugby, the incoming five-person board – which will be headed by Eastern Province Rugby Union (EPRU) president Andre Rademan – has already been tasked with talking its main sponsor off the ledge.
City Press understands that the Port Elizabeth-based utility vehicle maker sent the Kings a letter this week informing them of their intention to pull out of the three-year deal a year early.
Isuzu, which is said to have had a great relationship with the Kings’ recently deposed majority shareholders, the Greatest Rugby Company in the Whole Wide World (GRC), are apparently citing a clause in the contract in which it insisted on being protected by the franchise from negative publicity to walk away from the deal.
With the GRC’s 18-month reign having been an unmitigated disaster – from a fractious relationship with minority shareholder EPRU, a farcical failure to find a head coach and disastrous results on the field to crippling cash flow problems – it’s safe to say the optics haven’t been great for the sponsor.
Which is why they’re looking to pull their R10 million annual sponsorship.
An official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, contradicted two City Press sources who said Isuzu’s parting was final, saying: “They’ve written a letter expressing their desire to exit, but following the change in board, the board is hopeful of having a conversation with them and persuading them to change their mind.”
Isuzu spokesperson Denise van Huyssteen would neither deny nor confirm this week’s events.
“Our sponsorship contract with the Kings is confidential,” she said.
“Any discussions relating to the contract will be held directly with the shareholders of the franchise, and we are therefore unable to make any further comments at this stage.”
The irony of Isuzu wanting to walk away from the deal is that they were rumoured to be quite keen to stay the course with the Kings.
An official familiar with the way the contract was set up said: “The contract was crafted in such a way that they could walk away any time they wanted to.
“But because of their excellent relationship with GRC, Isuzu were in it for the long run. They had said they would be involved for a of minimum three years, but would stay for the foreseeable future if things went okay.”
Were the Kings’ board to fail to negotiate Isuzu into a change of heart, the timing would be disastrous for a financially overburdened SA Rugby.
Already presiding over financially embattled affiliates, the Covid-19 coronavirus impact has burnt a hole in its finances, a situation said to be so dire that they are rumoured to have applied for a bank loan and relief through World Rugby’s relief fund to tide them over.
Also ironic would be the fact that things are in all likelihood going to change for the better with the Kings team now that SA Rugby is in charge.
The move not only means that they now have access to the Springboks’ World Cup-winning coaching staff, they could also push for, say, Bok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick – a Port Elizabeth native – to be lent to them as head coach. SA Rugby director of rugby Rassie Erasmus is in a position to try and get players of national interest – unused elsewhere – game time in the Pro14 franchise.