A year ago many thought Welsh regional rugby side the Ospreys were dead and buried as talks of a merger with the Scarlets dominated the headlines.
Now, the most successful of the four Welsh professional teams over the past 17 years can contemplate a more positive future following what they describe as a “multi-year, multi-million-pound deal” with the Hong Kong-based Y11 Sports & Media company.
The sports marketing outfit has taken a 75.1% stake in a new holding company, Ospreys International, created to facilitate the move. Ospreys chairman Rob Davies, along with the other current shareholders, will retain a 24.9% stake
Crucially receipts from the transaction will be ploughed back into the Ospreys at a time when recent on-field performances have delivered only two wins in 18 games.
“For some time now we’ve been planning a radical shift of gear. More than 12 months of hard work and strategic planning has led to this new partnership with Y11,” said Davies.
“It was essential we found a partner who shared our ambition and vision, but with the cultural understanding, expertise and resources to propel the region into a new era.
“We needed to secure the success of the past, whilst embracing fully the future and that is what we are now doing together. We’re thrilled by the opportunities ahead.”
Davies became chairman in March last year in the wake of the collapse of the proposed merger. The 2017-18 accounts revealed an operating loss of more than £2.7m, yet the latest set of accounts for 2018-19 showed a dramatic drop to a loss of only £243,546.
More than £5m of debt has been written off in the past 13 months and new capital introduced.
The chief executive and co-founder of Y11 Sports and media is the Pontarddulais-born James Yandle, whose father, Mike, played for Swansea. A former Wales hockey international, he graduated from Loughborough University with a Sports Science degree in 2002.
After initially pursuing a career in investment banking he moved into sports marketing. He has become a director along with Y11 co-founder, Donald Tang.
“Rugby’s potential has been overlooked for too long as other sports have been nimbler at seizing commercial opportunities to power success on the pitch with revenues off it,” said Yandle.
“But the environment is changing quickly and rugby is on the verge of going through the same type of evolution as other sports before it.
“The Ospreys, from a standing start, have gone on to be one of the most exciting brands and teams in rugby. Of all the clubs we’ve seen, its potential to fully emerge and take the next step, is far beyond that of its peers.
Lot’s of talk about this game today.
I asked Ospreys chairman Rob Davies if it was frustrating he admitted it was but added…
“On one hand I am furious I haven’t got the players but I’m very happy that we’ve got the money. Where do I go?” pic.twitter.com/DMdIjspT38
— Matthew Southcombe (@MattSouth7) November 30, 2019
“We want to help it make that journey and be a part of that journey, by investing in a root and branch transformation of the Ospreys, to ensure it leads the next wave of the game.
“Alongside with the Ospreys’ management, we have agreed a programme of development and investment that will touch every aspect of the organisation’s operations and activities.
“Initially, we will take our time together to methodically build operational strength, capacity and resilience, before rapidly accelerating programmes across the board.
“Crucially, we are not going to allow ourselves to be held back by the current operating environment and we are not going to be afraid to break the mould.
“Ultimately, our reach and our sights are set far beyond our existing boarders and our business model and expertise are too.
“It’s an exciting time for the Ospreys: its team, its supporters, the organisation as well as for the game of rugby.”