Sport Union NZ Rugby votes to sell commercial share to US investors

NZ Rugby votes to sell commercial share to US investors

Players are worried about commercialisation of sacred team symbols, including the haka. Photo: AP
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The All Blacks and New Zealand Rugby are set for a massive injection of funds after a historic vote to sell a share in the game’s commercial interests.

On Thursday in Wellington, New Zealand’s 26 provincial rugby unions voted at the governing body’s annual meeting to sell a 12.5 per cent stake to US equity firm Silver Lake for $NZ387 million ($A360 million).

NZR 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.

But one official hurdle remains: The support of players (and many fans aren’t all that happy either).

The Rugby Players’ Association is yet to endorse the deal, with concerns from high-profile players including All Blacks captain Sam Cane on several fronts.

They have expressed a fear of a commercialisation of sacred team symbols – including the haka – and an increased demand to play exhibition games to make money and brand exposure.

Talks will continue, as the players’ union and New Zealand Rugby are yet to see eye to eye over the issues at hand.

New Zealand’s Sports Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson urged players to continue discussions.

“New Zealand Rugby has been working hard on it, trying to establish what it believes is a more secure financial base for the sport,” Mr Robertson said.

Where all parties 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,” Mr 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.”

Ahead of 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 Thursday’s annual meeting will put pressure on RPA boss Rob Nichol to come to the table in support.

-with AAP