Rugby

Aerios ‘fighting WP Rugby monsters’

2016-11-28 09:00
Thelo Wakefield (Gallo)
Cape Town - The liquidation of WP Rugby (Pty) Ltd is a “fraudulent plot”, says the chief executive of Aerios, the company at the centre of a major advertising rights dispute with the Newlands bosses.

Costas Constantinou was speaking in a lengthy interview with Sport24 on Friday, after the advertising sales company broke their silence this week over the much-publicised issue and broader WP Rugby financial woes, first revealed on this website earlier this month.

WPRFU president Thelo Wakefield, at a media briefing on November 6 where he announced the obtaining of a court order for provisional liquidation of their commercial arm, cited the Aerios controversy as the “tipping point for our finances”.

But Constantinou says it is “clear to everybody that WP Rugby are using the liquidation laws to service a scheme; a fraudulent plot they’ve got to try to cancel our (contractual) agreement”.

Aerios claim WP Rugby reneged on an advertising rights contract for exclusive advertising rights to sell stadium space, and a later one - two years ago - to install Wi-Fi and digitise Newlands in a multi-million rand development contract in exchange for content rights.

The WPRFU is a 75 percent shareholder in WP Rugby (Pty) Ltd.

“The attempt is to suggest separate entities; the reality is the Pty is basically an agency to the Union,” said Constantinou.

“The CEO of the Union (Paul Zacks) is the CEO of the Pty. They work from the same premises, do the same things, there is no difference ... and we will go out to prove it, which exposes them that much more.

“There’s no separation ... it’s just a non-profit that doesn’t pay tax and to be commercial they need to set up an agency.

“They have the ability to manipulate: for example, the Union charges a rental to the Pty to use the stadium (Newlands), and they manipulate that according to how much profit they’ve got.

“They’re using this whole matter as a trick to come out the other side, and hijack our rights ... they are just trying to be rid of us. It is a complete farce; a set-up.

“I feel like I am one guy fighting monsters.”

Aerios have filed papers to the Cape High Court opposing the winding-up of WP Rugby (Pty) Ltd; final liquidation is scheduled for December 12.

Constantinou says Wakefield painted a “dire situation” to justify the liquidation, but that at the press conference confirming it “he quickly tells everyone not to worry; how perfect everything is”.

“He is saying ‘the players are fine, we’re excited ... we’re giving this to a liquidator to take control of everything, but all will be fine. Everything will be honoured, we’re just doing this in a new company. Oh, by the way, everything remains the same ... we’re still getting the same revenue, same ticketing, suite sales, sponsorship revenue, but this new company, still under the Union, will simply be without (WP Rugby Pty Ltd) ... happy days’.

Constantinou says Wakefield has tried to “pin all the blame” for the Aerios dispute on Rob Wagner, the long-serving previous WP Rugby chief executive who retired in March.

“Rob’s the one who did the deal with us ... Rob and I have always had an amazing relationship and I think he’s a good man, though I just think sometimes he may not think enough about what he is doing.

“But the bottom line is that first agreement was actually drafted by Dave Kagan who is a Board member and it went through a whole process; we went back and forth through Board meetings.”

Aerios’s relations with Paul Zacks, who succeeded Wagner in April, have been more fractious, according to Constantinou.

“From the minute he arrived as the new CEO ... I don’t know if it was under orders, or if just his nature … he was out to obstruct. He has done nothing to resolve this situation.

“He started breaching everything (in agreements between Aerios and WP Rugby) ... he started dealing directly with sponsors, selling them our advertising, offering them advertising, stuff he was clearly not allowed to do - that is our right.

“We warned him and he carried on, so we went to court. They conceded; there’s an order of court. But two weeks later, the same thing. So I was forced to take a contempt order against my own partners - they just didn’t care.

“Contrary to what Wakefield says, things won’t be the same. This is going to destroy rugby in the Western Cape.

“As it stands right now, we are saying this (liquidation) must be stopped. We want players, ex-players, clubs, the shareholder Remgro who we have tried to reach out to, to stand with us to stop this liquidation - we’re happy to put money in ourselves if necessary.

“Stop this madness. The brand will be driven through the mud. Everything is rotten. Sponsors will walk; are we the only ones who realise that?

“Save rugby in the region - if Wakefield and Zacks are allowed to go through with liquidation, it is the end. They will be stuck in litigation for many years to come; it will (undermine) their business.

“We paid our investments; it’s time to start making a return, (yet) these guys want to hijack the rights so they can get the benefits. How do the directors think they are going to get out of this?

“My priority is not the fight ... my priority is the liquidation, and stopping it. We’ve made many concessions for years, to try to assist WP Rugby.

Constantinou charges that Wakefield “thinks he owns everything; he thinks the buck stops with him”.

“I kept quiet initially because they asked me to: ‘Please don’t talk to the press, we will resolve this issue, make a joint statement afterwards.’

“I feel helpless ... the only thing we can do is oppose the liquidation, and we are doing everything we can in that regard to block it.

“Yet we are stuck between a rock and a hard place here, because if (liquidation) gets delayed, they will lose their sponsors. Players will be reviewing their careers as well.

“I am a Michaelhouse (KwaZulu-Natal) boy originally, but I have grown to love WP, their supporters. It is the biggest brand, but you have people running it who have no idea what they are doing.”

*WP Rugby have been sent various allegations made by Constantinou, but no reply had been received at the time of publication.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    wpru  |  aerios  |  cape town  |  rugby
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