Super Rugby team the Melbourne Rebels has been sold to Imperium Sports Management

Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Melbourne businessman Andrew Cox has bought the Melbourne Rebels Super Rugby franchise.

The Australian Rugby Union confirmed that Cox’s company Imperium Sports Management (ISM) will take control of the Melbourne Rebels from July 1, the day after the 2015 grand final.

ISM is a side arm of Cox’s Imperium Group, a Melbourne-based investment company which has a range of luxury hotel interests in his New Zealand birthplace, as well as the Australian TGI Fridays restaurant franchise. Melbourne businessman and former Melbourne Heart A-league chairman Peter Sidwell is ISM’s co-owner. (The soccer team was sold to Manchester City last year.)

The ARU says the duo “have a proven track record of successful transformation of under-performing businesses and brand management”.

CEO Bill Pulver said “throughout the negotiations with the Imperium Group, we have been most impressed with both Andrew Cox and Peter Sidwell and their vision for the growth of rugby in Victoria”.

The Rebels, founded in 2010, lost more than $A3 million last season and were being propped up by the ARU, which pumped in around $9 million since a consortium led by media buyer Harold Mitchell handed the licence to the Victorian Rugby Union in 2013.

The private equity deal with ISM gives Cox, a former A&M specialist for KPMG, the chance to turn around the struggling club.

“We’re excited about the opportunity we have to re-engage with the Victorian rugby community and form a deeper connection with our fans by delivering better rugby experiences at AAMI Park,” Cox said. “With the expanded Super Rugby competition in 2016, we are looking forward to showcasing Melbourne across the world through new markets including Asia and South America.”

MRRU chairman Jonathan Ling will continue to chair the Melbourne Rebels Advisory Board, along with a number of current MRRU directors.

The Rebels just had their best season, with seven wins, including beating seven-time Super Rugby champion the Crusaders in the opening round – the first time Melbourne had won an overseas game.

The Super Rugby season grand final is on Saturday, July 4.

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