Bristol City major shareholder Steve Lansdown buys Bristol Rugby
STEVE Lansdown, the majority shareholder of Bristol City, is today revealed as the new owner of Bristol Rugby.
Mr Lansdown's purchase of the RFU Championship leaders is likely to be confirmed today – and the Evening Post can also reveal that he has been helping to bankroll the rugby club for the past three years.
His financial input saved the club from going out of business during the 2008-09 season – when Mr Lansdown, referred to in official documents only as "White Knight", ploughed in the hundreds of thousands of pounds that essentially kept professional rugby in Bristol.
Until now, he has wanted to keep his involvement in that rescue package a secret, but now his acquisition of the rugby club is complete, he has spoken of how he came on board to help Chris Booy save the club.
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Now Mr Lansdown's investment looks set to help propel the club forward.
Mr Booy will remain as chairman and a minority shareholder in the rugby club, with Steve Gorvett continuing in his role of chief executive, as Mr Lansdown seeks to ensure the transition around his purchase runs as smoothly as possible.
The Rugby Football Union still need to rubber-stamp Mr Lansdown's investment in, and purchase of, Bristol Rugby – but, given his personal wealth and history of involvement in professional sport through Bristol City, that final hurdle should be little more than a formality.
Mr Lansdown's financial input has helped the Championship leaders boost their quest for promotion back to the Aviva Premiership in recent weeks, with ten new players arriving at the club.
But he has been in the background at the rugby club for much longer than that, initially playing the silent but crucial role of investing significant amounts of money during the 2008-09 season, when it appeared the club may otherwise have slipped into administration.
"I want people to know that this is not a takeover," Mr Lansdown told the Post.
"I have been in the background since February 2009 and I have been there supporting Chris in helping to bring the rugby club to where it is now.
"What we are doing now is cementing that relationship by turning it into an equity relationship and we are looking forward to continuing to build the club.
"It is important that the supporters know Bristol Rugby is financially stable and has the potential to grow into an even more successful rugby club in the future. That is what this city wants and needs."
Mr Lansdown has stressed that the rugby club would continue to play at the Memorial Stadium – their spiritual home since 1921 – with a new lease, covering next season, already having been signed.
But questions will inevitably arise over how, if indeed at all, his purchase of the rugby club impacts on his role at Bristol City, where he remains the majority shareholder despite having stepped down as chairman at the end of last season.
Mr Lansdown, however, is eager to stress the two clubs will remain separate entities – albeit with him as a common factor – that can learn from and help each other to grow as businesses.
"There is, of course, a bigger picture – and, with having two sporting organisations in the same group, there is a chance that they may grow from a commercial and community perspective by pooling resources and getting the best out of each other," said Mr Lansdown. "But the only common factor between the two is myself. The rugby club is a separate entity – it is not being absorbed by Bristol City or anything like that.
"There will be great opportunities on the commercial side, no doubt, to bring both clubs together. That's obviously going to be looked at and it is part of the rationale for this.
"But my decision to become the majority shareholder of the rugby club in no way diminishes my commitment to Bristol City."
Since rugby union became a professional game in 1996, Bristol have been relegated from the top flight on three occasions and promoted twice.
Under head coach Liam Middleton, they currently lead the Championship by nine points with three matches to play in the regular season – but must still negotiate the tricky end-of-season play-off system if they are to complete a third promotion.
And, although Mr Lansdown has vowed not to overspend in a bid to find instant success with the rugby club, he hopes his arrival as majority shareholder could mark a significant moment in the club's history.
"I like to think this is a positive announcement for the rugby club and that the rugby world will sit up and take notice a little bit that Bristol are heading in the right direction," he said.