The All Blacks and New Zealand Rugby are set for a mammoth private equity injection after a historic vote to sell a minority share in the game’s commercial interests.
On Thursday in Wellington, New Zealand’s provincial rugby unions voted at the governing body’s annual general meeting to sell a 12.5 per cent stake to US equity firm for $NZ387 million ($A360 million).
Chairman Brent Impey thanked voters, saying “what you just did was incredibly significant”.
If ratified, it would mark the first time in the All Blacks’ 115-year history it has not been completely owned by New Zealanders.
One hurdle remains: the support of players.
The Rugby Players Association (RPA) is yet to okay the deal with concerns from high-profile players including All Blacks captain Sam Cane on a number of fronts.
They have expressed a fear of a commercialisation of sacred team symbols – includng the haka – and an increased demand to play exhibition games to make money and brand exposure.
Where all agree is the need for investment: growth, both locally and globally, is stagnant.
“New Zealand Rugby needs investment,” Auckland University of Technology senior lecturer Richard Wright told Radio NZ.
“Why? Because other people are not investing as much in rugby as much as they used to do and that includes New Zealanders.”
Silver Lake has a portfolio of stakes in clubs around the world; the UFC, the English Premier League’s Manchester City, A-League’s Melbourne City and the NBA’s New York Knicks included.
“They’re investment bankers. They would have done their due diligence. They’re not mugs,” Wright said.
“The All Blacks played six times last year. The most they might play this year is 15 times.
“To get that return on investment, they’re going to want to see the All Blacks playing and the ABs brand as much as possible.”
Speaking prior to the vote, Black Fern turned politician Louisa Wall said the game needed to support the grassroots.
“It’s been pretty obvious for a few years now that NZR needs revenue streams,” she told Radio NZ.
“We need the infrastructure. We take for granted we can play rugby. We need human resources. We need the grounds, the clubs.
“From my perspective it’s a no brainer. We have to do it.”
The unanimous vote at the AGM will put pressure on RPA boss Rob Nichol to come to the table in support.