Rugby: New Zealand's provincial unions approve sale of All Blacks stake to US private equity firm

The All Blacks are one of the most successful teams in international sport. PHOTO: AFP

WELLINGTON (REUTERS) - New Zealand's 26 provincial unions on Thursday (April 29) unanimously approved the sale of a 12.5 per cent stake in the commercial arm of New Zealand Rugby, including the All Blacks national team, to American private equity firm Silver Lake.

The All Blacks are 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 NZ$387.5 million (S$372.5 million) deal, which values NZR's commercial rights at US$2.23 billion (S$2.95 billion), still needs to be approved by the New Zealand Rugby Players' Association (NZRPA), which has 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," said NZR's outgoing chairman Brent Impey. "Today's vote for Silver Lake represents a transformational opportunity for our game and one we must grasp."

NZR, which also announced an operating loss of NZ$18.7 million at Thursday's annual general meeting, has 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.

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 re-imagine 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 over US$79 billion in assets under management. In 2019, it paid US$500 million on a 10 per cent stake in the City Football Group, which owns English Premier 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.

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