Rugby: Silver Lake deal one step closer as unions vote in favour of private equity at historic NZ Rugby AGM

New Zealand Rugby’s 26 provincial unions have voted unanimously in favour of the proposed Silver Lake deal.

Representatives from the provincial unions gathered in Wellington on Thursday at
NZ Rugby’s 129th annual general meeting, where they voted via voice unanimously in favour of selling a 12.5 per cent stake in NZ Rugby’s commercial rights to US technology investment giants Silver Lake for $387.5 million.

Silver Lake valued NZ Rugby’s commercial rights at $3.1 billion.

NZ Rugby needed just over 50 per cent support from the provincial unions to push ahead with the Silver Lake proposal.

NZR chair Brent Impey said the positive vote for private equity was one of the most significant in the game’s history.

“We are thrilled that our Provincial Unions and the Māori Rugby Board have recognised the importance of private equity in driving commercial revenue and enabling investment to ensure rugby thrives and survives into the future. Today’s vote for Silver Lake represents a transformational opportunity for our game and one we must grasp.”

Despite the significant mandate the provincial unions have given NZ Rugby, the deal cannot pass at this stage, however, with the Players’ Association blocking an agreement being made as part of their collective bargaining process.

READ MORE: Silver Lake standoff: NZ Rugby hits back at players in defiant letter

NZ Rugby and the Players’ Association powerbrokers have held seven mediation sessions over the past three weeks, without making any progress on their opposing views on a potentially landmark Silver Lake deal.

Talks are expected to resume between the two parties to try resolve the deadlock in the coming weeks.

“Through swift action, good governance and hard work of our people we are fortunate to be one of the best placed national unions in the world. However, we are at a critical juncture and need our players’ support if we are to make the most of the opportunity in front of us,” Impey said.

“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, particularly teenage and women’s rugby, and to create better and more engaging experiences for our fans.

“The players are a critical part of this journey, but we have to look at what is right across all levels of the game, our whole eco-system. 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.”

NZ Rugby posts $34 million loss

NZ Rugby also announced a total loss of $34.6 million for the 2020 financial year.

This includes an operating loss of $18.7 million – five million worse than the budgeted $13.7m.

The loss is attributed to the Covid-19 impact, Super Rugby shutdown and significantly scaled back All Blacks tests, with six taking place in 2020.

NZ Rugby’s revenue was down 26 per cent from $187m in 2019 to $138m last year.

The $36.4 million decline includes the losses from NZ Rugby’s five per cent shares in Sky Television.

NZR chief executive Mark Robinson said the 2020 balance sheet was a reflection of rugby’s adaptability and resilience.

“A year ago we were facing a collapse of more than 60 percent of our revenue and had to make some hard decisions in a short amount of time in order to keep costs down, while getting our players on the field and keeping our stakeholders engaged.

“From the Heartland unions’ decision to cancel their representative season, to the extra hours our staff and players have put in, the past year has been difficult, and we acknowledge the hardships felt by our people at all levels across the game.”

Robinson also said the Silver Lake deal will help fund the grassroots, which has seen falling player numbers.

“Private equity would provide the impetus for us to water the grassroots and resource the areas most in need at our clubs and Provincial Unions. It’s an exciting time to be involved.”

Board appointments

Sir Michael Jones has made the decision to step down from the NZR Board – as first reported on the Herald – to commit more time to his family, community and work.

Jones said it had been an honour to serve on the board and help drive some landmark decisions including the recent granting of conditional licenses to Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua to join NZR’s professional competitions in 2022.

“It has been a privilege to serve the game that has given me so much and I will continue to contribute where I can, particularly at grassroots levels.”

Impey added: “We thank Michael for his valuable service since joining the Board in 2018. He has provided a crucial Pasifika lens and ensured community was always at the heart of our discussions.”

New Zealand Māori board chair Farah Palmer was reappointed as the Māori representative on the NZR board, where she will be joined by Ajit Balasingham and Mark Hutton.

Balasingham was nominated by the Northland Rugby Union and elected by provincial union vote, while Hutton was appointed after being recommended by the appointment’s and remuneration committee.

Impey said the new Board members brought excellent skill sets to the table.

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