New Zealand rugby unions to sell All Blacks stake to US firm

Proposed sale involves a 12.5 percent stake in commercial arm of New Zealand Rugby to private equity firm Silver Lake.

The New Zealand Rugby Players' Association has said it plans to block the sale of a stake in New Zealand Rugby to Silver Lake [File: Hannah Peters/Pool via Reuters]

New Zealand’s 26 provincial unions have unanimously approved the sale of a 12.5 percent stake in the commercial arm of New Zealand Rugby (NZR), including the All Blacks national team, to United States-based private equity firm Silver Lake.

The All Blacks are by far New Zealand’s best-known sports brand and one of the most successful teams in international sport, winning more than three-quarters of the matches they have played.

The 387.5 million New Zealand dollars ($281.8m) deal, which values NZR’s commercial rights at $2.23bn, still needs to be approved by the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association (NZRPA), who have expressed reservations about the deal.

“We are thrilled that our Provincial Unions … have recognised the importance of private equity in driving commercial revenue and enabling investment to ensure rugby thrives and survives into the future,” NZR’s outgoing chairman Brent Impey said on Thursday.

“Today’s vote for Silver Lake represents a transformational opportunity for our game and one we must grasp.”

The New Zealand All Blacks may be hugely successful on the pitch, but New Zealand Rugby which oversees the game in the country, is operating at a financial loss [File: Marcos Brindicci/Reuters]

NZR, who also announced an operating loss of 18.7 million New Zealand dollars ($13.6m) at Thursday’s annual general meeting, have promised grassroots rugby a cash windfall if the Silver Lake deal goes through.

The NZRPA, backed by All Blacks captain Sam Cane, had written to NZR in January saying it would block the sale, citing concerns over a loss of control and the risk of “cultural misappropriation”, according to New Zealand media.

NZRPA chief executive Rob Nichol said on Thursday the union had put negotiations with NZR on hold “for a few weeks”.

“Between us, we need to resolve what the collective (agreement) will look like beyond this year in order for the players to respond to NZR’s request for approval of the proposed Silver Lake transaction,” he said.

‘Reimagine rugby’

Impey said it was disappointing the players’ union had not consented to the deal.

“The game has to change, and Silver Lake’s capital injection would allow us to reimagine rugby and invest in the areas of the community game that need it most,” he said.

“The players are a critical part of this journey … We hope the NZRPA will realise the significance of the opportunity in front of us and will continue to work toward an agreement in coming weeks.”

Silver Lake, mostly invests in technology companies and has more than $79bn in assets under management. In 2019, it paid $500m for a 10 percent stake in the City Football Group, which owns English Premier League club Manchester City and other teams around the world.

Manchester City were one of 12 top European clubs who announced a breakaway league last week. The proposed European Super League was shelved when many of the teams withdrew in the face of criticism from fans, politicians and federations.

Source: Reuters