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Report: All Blacks stars move to block Silver Lake’s NZ$465m NZR investment

NZRPA fears deal will damage fan relationship as well as the safety of the Māori and Pasifika game.

29 March 2021 Ed Dixon
  • Letter includes signature of All Blacks captain Sam Cane
  • Players say they ‘will not grant approval’ to sale
  • NZR due to vote on deal next month

More than half a dozen of New Zealand’s top rugby union players have threatened to block a proposed NZ$465 million (US$324 million) investment from US private equity firm Silver Lake into New Zealand Rugby (NZR), according to the New Zealand Herald.

The newspaper had initially reported last month that Silver Lake had tabled an offer to acquire up to 15 per cent of NZR’s commercial rights, in a deal that valued the national rugby union governing body’s rights at NZ$3.1 billion (US$2.2 billion).

The deal would also represent ‘the largest transaction of this nature in New Zealand sports history’, the Herald added.

But several leading All Blacks internationals, including captain Sam Cane, have sent a letter, which was obtained by the Herald, opposing the investment.

The letter from the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association (NZRPA) cites concerns about the safety of the Māori and Pasifika game and also asserts that funds can be raised without selling a chunk of NZR’s commercial rights.

‘We have concluded that we will not grant approval for the restructure and sale proposed by NZR, and believe we should communicate that conclusion to you now,’ the letter reads.

‘The decision to not grant approval to the sale of a minority interest in New Zealand Rugby has been arrived at after careful consideration by the board of NZRPA.

‘All of these ends can be achieved by accessing much cheaper capital, proceeding with the creation of a separate CommercialCo, hiring and incentivising world-class talent, and engaging sports service providers directly.

‘We know many players are – and believe many other New Zealanders would be – uncomfortable with the thought that NZR was selling income-generating assets that relied, in part, upon cultural practices and understandings that they consider not for sale under any circumstances.

‘There is an inherent risk of real or perceived cultural misappropriation, given Silver Lake is an Anglo-American private equity firm.

‘The risks all arise because of the irrevocability of a sale of equity in NZR’s income-generating assets. It is clear that once a share in the assets is sold, it will never be bought back.’

The eight-page letter also claims the deal could damage the relationship between rugby and the New Zealand public.

‘We believe there is a risk that this special bond and the nature of what rugby means to New Zealanders, players and spectators alike, is at risk in the proposed transaction,’ the letter continued.

In addition to Cane, the letter is reportedly signed by his teammates Aaron Smith, Sam Whitelock and Dane Coles, as well as Black Ferns Sevens captain Sarah Hirini and Black Ferns player Selica Winiata. It was addressed to the NZR directors and clubs, and was signed by NZRPA chairman David Kirk and chief executive Rob Nichol.

The letter puts the Silver Lake investment in serious doubt as the NZRPA must sign off on the deal before it can officially go through.

Provincial rugby unions are due to vote on the deal at next month’s NZR board meeting, though the Herald reported that a ‘sale ratio between ten to 15 per cent’ will be agreed on 29th March.

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