Rumors have been swirling about the possibility of Professional Rugby Organization (PRO) founder, Doug Schoninger, being interested in purchasing the Currie Cup and Vodacom Cup professional South African team, Eastern Province Kings. It looks like these may be more then rumors, as it was announced that the Eastern Province Kings and Schoninger are close to finalizing a deal that would give him 74% ownership of the team.
The opportunity to buy the the Eastern Province Kings comes after the revelation that they were having financial problems in 2015 and have been unable to pay their players. Things continued to spiral downard as the players took the Kings to court for unpaid wages. The Kings were given a deadline to find funding in the tune of 200 million rand ($15,092,994.70), but were unable due to a sponsorship not going through. The Kings would eventually get temporarily financially backed by the South African Rugby Union. The Kings would go on to have ups and downs in people wanting to purchase the team, such as Christopher Wishlade, who had claimed to want to provide 20 million rands per year ($1,493,254.92) for 5 years, but was unable to back that promise due to bankruptcy. Ultimately the team was not able to find sustainable financial backing and, at the beginning of 2016, the Kings had to file for provincial liquidation.
Schoninger looks like he will be able to take advantage of the Kings going into liquidation. Though nothing has been officially finalized, one has to wonder what direction he’s taking with this organization. Schoninger still has yet to close any of the unpaid accounts that are owed to facilities, players and organizations that were used during the 2016 PRO Rugby season. The purchase of the Kings provides an access into the Super Rugby that, some speculate, could potentially make the PRO Rugby a minor league feeder team for the franchise. There still has not been any progression in the discussions between Schoninger and USA Rugby about the future of PRO Rugby, but regardless, there is no question that the brands name has faced some serious public scrutiny within the rugby community.
The future of the Eastern Province Kings and PRO Rugby are invariably tied together. The development of professional rugby in the USA continues to go through transitions as more questions have to be made about the decisions for its future. The potential for new companies to try and start professional sides will be under greater scrutiny by the USA rugby community, and all will be connected to the progression of USA Rugby and RIM. For now, we have to wait to see what is to come in this industry.