New Zealand Rugby backs plan to sell stake in All Blacks to US investors
Published: Apr 29, 2021 05:18 PM
New Zealand Rugby backed a "revolutionary" plan to sell a stake in the All Blacks to US investors on Thursday, ­ignoring opposition from top players who fear the deal will sully rugby's most storied team.

The NZR's provincial unions unanimously backed the deal with California-based Silver Lake Partners at its annual general meeting in Wellington, with chief executive Mark Robinson calling it a one-off chance to reset the cash-strapped body's finances.

"We believe it is an exciting and truly transformational opportunity that can benefit the entire game for generations to come," he said.

But the proposal faces a potential veto from the Rugby Players Association - which represents the sport's elite talent - some of whom believe the soul of their beloved All Blacks is being auctioned off.

Concerns around the deal have intensified in the wake of the European Super League fiasco, when Europe's top football clubs shelved a US-backed breakaway competition within days, after an outcry from fans and officials.

Under the deal, Silver Lake will pay $280 million for a 12.5 percent stake in New Zealand Rugby's commercial rights, and the right to negotiate merchandise and broadcast deals worldwide.

The focus for the Americans is the All Blacks, the three-time world champions recognized globally as rugby's most potent brand.

Robinson said the coronavirus pandemic hit NZR's already strained finances so hard that at one point the governing body's survival was at stake.

He told delegates from ­provincial unions "the future of the game is in your hands."

NZR chairman Brent Impey described the deal as "­compelling" and said it represented "a revolutionary turning point for rugby."

"[It's] a unique opportunity for New Zealand Rugby to drive commercial revenues to... enable investment into the areas of most need," he said.

Impey was disappointed at the opposition from the players' association, but said the vote showed the wider rugby community supported it.

"You have sent a very, very clear message," he said, adding that it would be a "terrible mistake" if the players' association scuttled the deal.

Impey said the money would be used to help ­struggling provincial unions, develop the women's game and increase youth participation.

He also said technology investments facilitated by the deal would give NZR the ability "to access millions of fans around the world."

He said there was no Plan B if the deal did not proceed.

The state of NZR's finances was underlined when results released at the annual meeting showed losses of more than $25 million in 2020.