There’s no going back now.
New Zealand Rugby’s provincial unions last week voted 89-1 in favour of selling a slice of the organisation’s revenue-generating assets to the US private equity firm Silver Lake.
A newly established company – CommercialCo – will manage those assets. Silver Lake has agreed to pay a minimum of $200 million for an almost six percent stake in the company, with the possibility of increasing the investment to $300m.
It’s the first time such a deal has been made by a New Zealand national sporting body.
RNZ rugby reporter Joe Porter explains to The Detail the initial $200m investment will be spread across a number of areas in need of urgent attention.
$60m will go into a legacy fund, to protect the future of the game.
“They’ll hope to grow that $60m to $100m eventually, and then start flicking off the interest they gain from that to help people who need it throughout the country – clubs and provincial unions that need a top-up,” Porter says.
There’ll be a $37m short-term investment to try to halt declining player numbers. $14m will go to National Provincial Championship unions and Heartland unions get $6m.
There’s also $2m for the Māori Rugby Board, $7.5m for community clubs and a bit for referees, too.
None of the money has been clearly earmarked for women’s rugby, which Porter says is surprising.
But he expects some investment in that area into the future given its tremendous growth potential.
In return for its investment, Silver Lake will essentially benefit if New Zealand Rugby (NZR) grows its revenue. It will also hold several seats on the new company’s board, though NZR will maintain a majority.
Porter says this brings an unknown quantity: Silver Lake wants to turn a profit and while it might not have dominance in board seats, the organisation’s deep pockets may mean it wields outsize influence on how New Zealand’s national teams operate.
He says more matches are likely, though there’s no guarantee they’ll actually be played by the All Blacks. A new subordinate team – a sort of New Zealand A – will be established to play non-test matches around the world.
The All Blacks brand will also be tapped into, Porter says, potentially through more online content: think coaching clinics, a Formula 1: Drive To Survive-style documentary.
Porter says the need to further commercialise the All Blacks’ brand may force team management and players to show more personality and charisma. He draws a stark contrast between the bland, formulaic interviews rugby players give with the unrestrained personalities and locker-room access enjoyed by American basketball reporters, for example.
The deal has been hard-fought: some rugby fans in Aotearoa considered the idea of selling part of the national team to an international investment fund to be unconscionable.
But Porter says the vast resources available to clubs in the northern hemisphere had to be countered somehow: the allure of the black jersey can only do so much when the alternative is setting up your family financially for life.
“Phlegmatically, there is no other option. New Zealand Rugby needs the money. And if New Zealanders value the All Blacks being the best team in the world…they have to admit that the money will really help.”
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