All Blacks

Cash-strapped New Zealand Rugby has secured a lucrative investment from US private equity firm Silver Lake. Photo: Getty Images

All Blacks sign HUGE deal with US private equity firm

Cash-strapped New Zealand Rugby has secured a lucrative investment from US private equity firm Silver Lake.

All Blacks

Cash-strapped New Zealand Rugby has secured a lucrative investment from US private equity firm Silver Lake. Photo: Getty Images

New Zealand Rugby secured a lucrative investment on Thursday from US private equity firm Silver Lake after allaying fears from the players’ union that the deal was a sellout that would tarnish the famed All Blacks’ legacy.

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The partnership will see Silver Lake put NZ$200 million (R2 billion) into a joint commercial entity, which will remain majority owned by NZR.

Institutional investors will be given the opportunity to purchase a further NZ$100 million stake later this year, although NZR will retain ownership of around 90 percent.

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NZR described the deal as “transformational” for the cash-strapped body, ensuring financial stability and providing money for priorities such as women’s and grassroots rugby.

“This partnership presents rugby with an extraordinary opportunity to secure its future and unleash its true potential – we are truly excited by what we can achieve together with Silver Lake’s world class capabilities,” NZR chief Mark Robinson said.

It follows almost two years of sometimes acrimonious negotiations when the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association threatened to veto the deal.

NZRPA chairperson David Kirk, who last year told AFP he feared the investment would result in the All Blacks brand being cheapened by commercial interests, said he now supported the partnership.

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“The agreement provides capital on a sound economic basis and Silver Lake brings additional capability to execute on the new growth opportunities,” he said.

Under the deal, Silver Lake gains a stake in NZR’s commercial rights and is expected to take the lead negotiating merchandise and broadcast deals worldwide.

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“Digital technologies are transforming all sports, and we look forward to bringing our global network and resources to help New Zealand rugby drive innovation and take advantage of all the opportunities ahead,” Silver Lake managing director Stephen Evans said.

The deal values NZR’s commercial interests at a whopping NZ$3.5 billion.

Silver Lake originally sought a 12.5 percent stake in the commercial entity but the players’ union were concerned it would give the firm too much power.

The focus for the Americans is the All Blacks, the three-time world champions recognised globally as the benchmark in rugby union.

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New Zealand Rugby posted an NZ$34.6 million loss in 2020, with the bottom line hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

The governing body typically operates in the red, relying on a windfall every 12 years from tours by the British and Irish Lions, who last visited in 2017.

California-based Silver Lake, which started out as a technology investment vehicle, has moved into sport recently, taking a 10 percent stake 18 months ago in City Football Group, owners of English Premier League giants Manchester City.

Rugby union, with its wealthy fan base, has proved an attractive investment opportunity for private equity, with CVC Capital Partners taking stakes in England’s Gallagher Premiership, the PRO14 (now United Rugby Championship) and the Six Nations.

Rugby Australia has also indicated it is looking for an injection of private equity cash.

By Garrin Lambley © Agence France-Presse