The Highlanders have embarked on a new era with local provincial unions and South Island private investors being granted a licence to operate the team until 2020.
The combined group of investors will inject substantial new capital into the 2015 Super Rugby winning team.
The South Island private investor group is headed by Dunedin businessman Matthew Davey, Founder and CEO of ticketing agency Ticket Direct.
Otago, Southland and North Otago Provincial Unions will have a 13 per cent stake in the new operator. New Zealand Rugby (NZR) retains a 10 per cent share for the first two years which will further assist putting the side on a secure commercial footing. The new venture is being underwritten by a guarantee from the Invercargill City Council in exchange for guaranteed Highlanders games in Invercargill.
"The Highlanders are now well placed to face the future with renewed confidence and build on what has been a very successful year on the field," said NZR Chief Executive Steve Tew.
"The investor group brings considerable commercial experience, particularly in the sports consumer marketing area and they have great knowledge of the business of rugby. This experience, coupled with strong provincial union support, will really help the Highlanders build a sustainable business and take full advantage of the opportunities ahead."
"For those who love rugby (like our group) it was simply too good an opportunity to pass up," said Matthew Davey on behalf of the investor group.
"We see this as a good business opportunity, but equally we have a strong emotional attachment to the South and for me in particular, the Highlanders. They’ve been my team from the very early days of Super Rugby but it’s also fair to say that we’ve been impressed with the work and results that Roger Clark, Jamie Joseph and the previous Highlanders board have achieved, in building the Highlanders up to a point where a group such as ours would be interested.
"We are an experienced, well-resourced, innovative group and we look forward to a long and successful partnership with rugby in the south and it’s certainly our ambition to build on the strong base that New Zealand Rugby has entrusted us with."
Doug Harvie, chairman of the board of the new operating company said: "Having been involved with provincial unions and the Highlanders, I am very pleased with this investment consortium taking the reins for the ensuing years. The commercial acumen they bring is exceptional, and will put the Highlanders in the very best position to build on last year’s success."