Honolulu Star-Advertisr


By Ferd Lewis

July 21, 2020

Growing up in Honolulu, George Killebrew saw a string of professional sports franchises come and go.

Mostly go. Among them was his beloved World Football League entry, The Hawaiians, for whom he served as a ballboy for two seasons only to see the team fold on his 11th birthday in 1975.

A former NBA executive, Killebrew is the commissioner of Major League Rugby and is crossing his fingers that Kanaloa Hawaii Rugby will succeed where so many others have failed.

The New Zealand-owned entity’s initial franchise application was approved earlier this month and it is in an exclusive negotiating period in which to finalize terms that would make it the league’s 14th member in time for the 2021 season.

The league, which is spread across the U.S. and Canada, began with seven teams in 2018. Its 2021 season, COVID-19 permitting, would begin in February.

“Our other members and directors are really excited about having Hawaii in the league,” Killebrew said. “They have a ton of enthusiasm, which is great. The history of pro sports in Hawaii is not a huge success story but this is one that can work, if the right things come together.”

Financial terms were not disclosed but the franchise fee is said to be approximately $4 million. In addition, the team must come up with a home site, a COVID-19 plan and other arrangements to secure final approval, officials said.

Aloha Stadium manager Scott Chan said, “We are aware of Kanaloa Hawaii but have not spoken with them directly. We do know that they have contacted the (NASED) consultants from Crawford (Architects) as it relates to the future of the new stadium. The consultants are aware that the Stadium Authority would support and encourage any professional franchise interested in securing Aloha Stadium to be their official home site.”

Crawford CEO Stacey Jones said, “Just as we have done with several potential users over the course of the past several months, MLR has reached out to us and we held a very high-level discussion with them last week to hear about their plans for a Honolulu team. (It was) just a listening session with no commitments.”

Kanaloa CEO Tracy Atiga, who is of Maori and Samoan ancestry, would become the first woman to head a pro rugby club. She said the club would be owned and operated by members of Pacific Islander ancestries and operate “with a village ethos.”

The group has run rugby clinics in Hawaii and throughout the Pacific.

Atiga said several former members of the New Zealand national rugby union team, commonly known as the All Blacks, are involved in its planning. In addition, she said Kanaloa has already contracted with a manager, Cam Kilgour, and is talking to some prospective players. “At this stage, we’re planning for a February (start),” Atiga said.