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Why RA have opted to borrow $60m instead of pursuing private equity sugar hit - for now

21st September, 2023
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21st September, 2023
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Rugby Australia have put on the backburner their private equity plans and will seek to borrow as much as $60 million to help power the game forward ahead of the 2027 Rugby World Cup.

After an “exhaustive” two-year process examining their financial state and the pros and cons of private equity, the governing body earlier this week told stakeholders that they would take out more debt rather than sell off up to 20 per cent of their commercial arm.

With RA receiving just $29 million a year from their broadcast deal with Nine and Stan Sport, the governing body had been talking to seven private equity firms about a deal, including Silver Lake, CVC and Andrew Forrest’s Tattarang, as they sought to get a $250 million cash injection to power their golden decade of headline events.

But with Nine and Stan taking up a two-year extension deal, private equity firms wanted more clarity as to how much more the next broadcast deal would be worth.

PE firms were also wanting to know more clarity about the game’s schedule, with the much-talked-about Nations Cup still in the pipeline.

As such, RA was encouraged to take on more debt rather than undersell the game’s value.

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The Wallabies line up ahead of their 22-15 loss to Fiji. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Although RA chairman Hamish McLennan believed the game could benefit with an immediate cash injection, it’s believed new chief executive Phil Waugh advocated for taking a debt approach to help solve its immediate cash-flow issues.

RA won’t shelve their PE plans completely, but for now, they will look to take out as much as $60 million on top of the $15m they have from the $40m Ares deal in 2020, ahead of British and Irish Lions series in 2025.

“We’ll revisit PE late next year or in ’26,” McLennan told The Roar.

“Determining the broadcast number with home World Cups will be the big swing factor.

“We’ll take on more debt ahead of the Lions series to put into grassroots, the women’s and men’s game.”

Rugby Australia chief executive Phil Waugh (R) and chairman Hamish McLennan (L) will look to take our more debt to help turn the game around. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

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The decision not to sell off up to 20 per cent of their assets has largely been received well.

Some of its stakeholders believe it’s prudent not to sell at a reduced rate ahead of golden ticket items, including the Lions series in 2025 and Men’s World Cup in 2027, which are estimated to bring in an estimated $200M.

“Some of my stakeholders actually prefer the debt route,” McLennan added.

RA have also been closely observing the impact of private equity on their rival unions, with New Zealand Rugby’s $NZ200m not quite delivering the game-changing impact they craved.

Nor has their NZR+ streaming platform had the explosion of subscribers they hoped either.

Eddie Jones’s Wallabies face a do-or-die Test against Wales to keep alive their World Cup quarter-final hopes. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

RA’s significant decision has been made ahead of the Wallabies’ do-or-die Rugby World Cup fixture against Pool C rivals Wales in Lyon on Sunday (Monday, 5am AEST).

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McLennan described the match, which comes a week after the nation’s first Test loss to Fiji in 69 years, as “one of the biggest Wallabies games ever”.

While RA is sweating on the result after moving Dave Rennie on at the start of the year to parachute Eddie Jones back into the role, it’s believed the governing body is confident a historic first pool exit won’t jeopardise upcoming broadcast negotiations.

Industry insiders believe Foxtel could well try to wrestle back the broadcast rights deal from its direct rivals Stan Sport, while Amazon Prime and Paramount Plus could also mount bids.

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