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Your questions answered - Part 3

Posted on Friday, 05 Feb 2021

Your questions answered - Part 3

The Free State Cheetahs management often receive questions from supporters and other interested parties.

The questions vary from why the Toyota Cheetahs were ousted from the expanded PRO16 series in Europe, to the team’s performance, players, coaches, staff, commercial matters and what the future holds for the franchise.

It is not always possible to provide individual responses to all the questions. We have therefore compiled a set of the most frequently asked questions with answers to each. 

Our supporters are welcome to use this tool of transparency and share it with other supporters looking for answers.

As new questions come in, we will assess and add them.

You are welcome to submit any questions you may have, to us at media@fsrugby.co.za  

 

Watch Q&A with Harold Verster

 

1. In general terms, is Free State Rugby well-managed? Yes or No?

  • Yes. It has a competent team, but also strong external expertise and oversight. It has a track record of responsible business and financial management reviewed by external auditors. 

  • Free State Rugby consists of the Free State Rugby Union and the Toyota Free State Cheetahs (Pty) Ltd. The Union looks after amateur rugby in schools, clubs, women’s rugby, referees and other associations. The Cheetahs is a registered company and professional franchise in which the Union holds 75.5% of the shares and SuperSport 24.5%. The board consists of six Union-appointed, four SuperSport-appointed and two independent directors. There is a strong focus on sound corporate governance under the watchful eye of the independent Audit and Risk Committee made up of external financial and business experts. 

  • Free State Ruby is accountable to SARU with several checks and balances. Despite our exclusion from PRO16 the players and the wider Free State team have shown solid performance, resilience, resourcefulness and are planning ahead for the future.


2. Have any international businesses (apart from the Toyota sponsorship) shown interest in investing in the Free State Cheetahs? 

  • There are both international and South African entities interested in buying a stake in the Toyota Cheetahs. Positive negotiations are in progress with 31 March 2021 as the target date for finalising the process. If successful, these transactions will give the Cheetahs more financial muscle and the ability to recruit, retain and develop quality players.

 

3. Can any franchise survive without the support of a major investor or investors?

Rugby franchises such as the Toyota Cheetahs will not be able to survive, let alone thrive, without the support of major investors.  The Free State Cheetahs (Pty) Ltd was one of the first franchises in the country to sell shares to an outside entity (SuperSport). This is also the reason we are negotiating with other potential shareholders.

 

4. Assuming the negotiations are successful, when are the Toyota Cheetahs hoping to play in the Continental Shield competition in Europe?

Negotiations for our participation in the competition are progressing well, but many details, such as the fixtures, still have to be finalised. It is unlikely that the international competition, if approved, will start before October 2021.

 

5. Is there a prospect of playing in die European Challenge should the Toyota Cheetahs do well in the Continental Shield?

Good performances in the Continental Shield could lead to an opportunity to play in the Challenge Cup - a very competitive series that was won some years ago by Montpellier with Jake White as their coach.

 

6. Will the Toyota Cheetahs have to generate the required income in order to participate in the Continental series through TV rights and sponsorships?

The Cheetahs has been generating its own sponsorships over many years and has some of the best sponsors of any franchise in the country. As far as TV rights go, the Toyota Cheetahs will have to negotiate its own TV rights in collaboration with SARU.

 

7. Could the Toyota Cheetahs qualify for the PRO16 at some time in the future?

We remain hopeful that there will be such an opportunity. Promotions/relegation matches are a sound principle, not only in South Africa, but in world rugby. The Cheetahs (or any other team such as Griquas of the Pumas) should be given the opportunity to play a promotion/relegation match against the least successful SA team in the PRO16. As things stand, the four SA teams (the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers) will represent South Africa in the PRO16 over the next three years. 

 

8. What if the Toyota Cheetahs were not part of any international tournament?

The negotiations for our participation in an international tournament are progressing well. With the support of SARU’s CEO, Jurie Roux, and Director of Rugby, Rassie Erasmus, we are confident that our participation in the competition will become a reality.

 

9. Is it true that the Free State Cheetahs’ board has asked Harold Verster to remain in his post as managing director until there is more clarity about the franchise’s future?

Yes, the board has asked Mr Verster to stay on beyond his planned retirement in September 2020. We are thankful that he has agreed to remain as we are managing difficult times. Succession planning is in place. Once there is finality about the road ahead, the position will be filled through a competitive and transparent process.

 

10. What about supporters (especially in other larger cities) outside Bloemfontein. How are they able to make a contribution?

Any supporter who wants to contribute to retain players is most welcome. We are considering crowdfunding in the near future. New jerseys and a commemorative book celebrating the 125th anniversary of Free State Rugby could form part of the crowdfunding initiative.

 

11. Why didn’t Free State Rugby go to court when SARU expelled them from the Pro16? There was an agreement and contract to play until 2023, or were those all lies, especially the contract part?

The Toyota Cheetahs still has the option to go to court until mid-March because it is an administrative legal process. Any court challenge can be costly, take time and the outcome is not guaranteed. That is why we have focussed on finding a constructive solution with our parent body, SARU.

 

12. Why is Free State not considering playing in the Japanese leagues. Toyota is a Japanese company. The quality of the game should be higher than Russia and other leagues Free State is considering, according to media reports. There should be financial advantages too.

We have considered competitions around the world.   Japan plays all their competitions in the country itself and not against outside countries. America is an option, but distance and the time difference are problematic.

Playing in Europe against countries like Portugal, Spain, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Netherlands and others seems a better option. If the Cheetahs play and perform well, it could pave the way to the European Challenge Cup.

 

13. Why does it seem that Free State Rugby is again deliberately being orphaned and omitted from international competition, or for that matter competitive and meaningful participation?

We have asked ourselves that question repeatedly: why the Toyota Cheetahs get ousted every time.  The main reason is the fact that, in terms of its commercial and rugby size, the Toyota Cheetahs is ranked at number 5, just below the other four.   SARU has used this ranking as a basis for their decisions.

We believe this viewpoint does not take into account that the Toyota Cheetahs achieve far more with much fewer resources, compared to other teams. The Cheetahs perform in their own right and have made a disproportionate contribution to South African rugby in developing star players and coaches and has been the bedrock of South African rugby culture in central South Africa. A case in point is the Crusaders which is much smaller than the Auckland Blues, but is still victorious in the Super Rugby year after year.  The size of the region is therefore not that important, but when it comes to voting, SARU chooses the simple” big four” route.

 

14. What is the structure of Free State Rugby?   Who controls what?

There are two divisions. One is the amateur side, namely Free State Rugby Union where a council, elected by Clubs, Schools and Associations is the controlling entity.  The Union receives money from the company known as Free State Cheetahs (Pty.) Ltd.  The Union’s task is club and school rugby.  

The commercial entity, the Free State Cheetahs (Pty.) Ltd. is responsible for commercial and professional rugby.  Control rests with a Board of Directors – six from the Free State Rugby Union and four from SuperSport.  There is also an independent Audit, Risk and Remuneration Committee consisting of three Chartered Accountants plus senior financial experts who act as watchdogs over the company and union’s affairs.

 

 

 

Free State Cheetahs (Pty) Limited has a shareholding of 75,5% and SuperSport owns the rest (24,5%).

 

15. What is management doing about all the current challenges?

Free State Rugby’s priorities are to keep the company and business viable, create new opportunities, growing sponsorship and revenue sources and build the Cheetahs brand. We are signing new players to replace those who have left, and we are in discussions with third-party investors about shareholding to capitalise the business. The Cheetahs worked hard over the festive season to get the team into international and national competitions.

These efforts have been strengthened because of the disruption and financial setback caused by COVID-19 and the Cheetahs’ exclusion from the PRO16 tournament.

 

16. Why are the Toyota Cheetahs not playing in the expanded PRO16 tournament?

Although the Cheetahs were the trailblazers in 2017 of their and the Kings’ participation in the PRO14 competition in Europe, SARU’s general council decided at the end of September 2020 that the Bulls, the Stormers, the Lions and the Sharks would represent South Africa in the new PRO16 tournament.

 

17. How did the Cheetahs perform in the PRO14?

In their first year (2017-18) of participation in the PRO 14, the Toyota Cheetahs reached the quarter-finals: despite the fact that they made available their coach, Franco Smith, to the Springboks and had to adapt in a very short time to the European surfaces and conditions. In 2020, the Cheetahs were again well placed with six of their last eight matches to be played in the Toyota Stadium and another one against the Kings in Port-Elizabeth. In fact, the Cheetahs were – along with Leinster, Ulster and Edinburgh – the only teams that won all their home games.

 

18. How did the Cheetahs perform in the Currie Cup series over the past two decades?

Since the turn of the century, the Cheetahs won the coveted Currie Cup four times (2005, 2007, 2016 and 2019) and shared it once (2006).   Based on average performance on the log, the Cheetahs did second best in the Currie Cup competition since 2005. In 2013, the Cheetahs were the only team in the knock-out rounds of both the Currie Cup and the Super Rugby competitions.  

 

19. Is the Cheetahs’ exclusion from the PRO16 the death knell for the franchise?

Naturally, the Toyota Cheetahs’ exclusion has serious implications, but there are also other exciting prospects. SARU realises the Cheetahs’ value and contribution to South African rugby. The Free State Cheetahs executives are also in continuous talks with SARU about financial support that will make the franchise viable and competitive. While it is very unfortunate that the Cheetahs were side-lined from the PRO16, the tournament only starts in October 2021 and is not the be-all and end-all of rugby.  

The Toyota Cheetahs are currently negotiating for participation in an international competition. An announcement about this competition – which will open up new opportunities for the Cheetahs – is expected in early March and will create new opportunities for the Cheetahs.

 

20. Who are the Toyota Cheetahs’ sponsors?

Toyota South Africa is our much-appreciated main sponsor. Other sponsors include Cartrack, Konica Minolta, OVK, Afrisam, Mothebe Shuttle Services, CellC, SAB, Distell, Central Media Group and Mediclinic. You can see a full list of our sponsors and partners at the bottom of this page.

 

21. The Cheetahs did not reach the play-offs of the current Currie Cup competition. Is the team still competitive?

The Cheetahs’ performance in the Currie Cup was nothing short of remarkable if one considers injuries and the loss of players due to the franchise’s exclusion from PRO16. A full-strength Cheetah team beat the Bulls and was well placed the following week to beat the Lions when the match was cancelled because of COVID.  A weakened team achieved a big win against the Sharks at the end of December and narrowly lost against the Stormers six days later.


22. Why do the Cheetahs lose so many players?

A turnover of rugby players is part and parcel of professional rugby. Players move to other franchises and unions because of attractive offers, new opportunities and new experiences. The Cheetahs’ omission from the PRO16 series created uncertainty amongst the players about the franchise’s future. More players than would normally be the case (eleven thus far), subsequently did not renew their contracts and decided to move to other local and international franchises.

 

23. What about new players to fill the gaps?

The Toyota Cheetahs need more depth amongst the forwards, especially at lock. It is an unfortunate fact that we have lost two full packs of forwards over the past two years. Our director of rugby, Hawies Fourie, is continuously negotiating with potential and promising new players. We believe we can rebuild the Cheetahs into a team which will produce the attractive and bold rugby which has become a trademark of the union over the past 125 years.

More on new players joining the squad

 

24. Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Yes. The Cheetahs have a good chance of playing in an international competition in Europe. Good performances could lead to participation in bigger competitions and greater international exposure. We will hopefully get finality over the Cheetahs’ participation in the next month or two.


25. Why don’t you keep your supporters informed about your negotiations with potential sponsors and investors?

Such negotiations are usually complex, confidential and involve a lot of role players. It will be wrong to create expectations if there is not yet a certainty.  We understand people’s impatience, but there are not always quick solutions or immediate alternatives. Such initiatives take time. Be assured, though, that we will immediately announce any tangible progress.  

 

26. Is the Toyota Cheetahs a viable franchise?

Free State and Cheetah-rugby have not only survived over its 125 years of existence but prospered, thrived and performed well. We have always managed our finances responsibly; we have a strong support base and sponsors have invested in the franchise to our mutual benefit. If the Cheetahs are treated on an equal and fair basis with the Stormers, Sharks, Bulls and Lions in terms of domestic and international competition and broadcasting rights, there is no doubt that the franchise is viable. The Cheetahs’ nett financial value (without big sponsors) compares favourably with that of other franchises.

 

27. Surely the big cities have stronger economies to support the metro franchises?

It is not just about money, but also how a franchise utilises and optimises its available resources. Free State Cheetahs have a proud track record. Not only has the union produced 87 Springboks, but also coaches under whose guidance the Springboks have won the World Cup. Other examples of the Cheetah’s contribution to Springbok rugby are that ten players who were schooled in Bloemfontein, were in the 22-man squad who played in a test against Scotland in November 2010, while six former Grey College pupils were in the 2011 Springbok squad who played in the 2011 World Cup tournament in New Zeeland.

 

28. Are there examples of smaller, successful franchises?

The perception and general view that bigger cities should get the bigger franchises to participate internationally, do not necessarily hold water. The most successful Super Rugby team to date are the Crusaders, who are based in Christchurch.  Christchurch is much smaller than, for example, Auckland, with more than four times the population of Christchurch. The Crusaders have, over the years, nonetheless performed much better than the Auckland Blues.

 

29. What brings success?

Other factors that make the difference in world rugby are rugby culture and the passion of the supporters and the people who live there. We would like to believe that the Cheetahs are a franchise that meets these criteria. The success of Orange Monday in September 2020, where a couple of thousand supporters took part in a rally involving more than 400 vehicles, is an excellent example of the Cheetah supporters’ passion and love for their team.

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