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NZ Rugby boss talks up private equity deal despite concerns

NEWS: New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson expressed confidence Tuesday that a “transformational” private equity deal would proceed, despite reservations expressed by top All Blacks.

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The cash-strapped governing body has confirmed it is in talks with a private equity investor, raising concerns about the All Blacks’ name being sold to the highest bidder.

Robinson said it would deliver a much-needed boost to New Zealand Rugby’s finances, which were already in a parlous state before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

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Former All Blacks Coach Wayne Smith On How Private Investment Could Save Rugby in New Zealand

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Former All Blacks Coach Wayne Smith On How Private Investment Could Save Rugby in New Zealand

“We do believe it is truly a transformational opportunity for all of the game,” he told reporters.

“We believe the game needs to change and we have a strong leadership role to play in providing opportunities for that to happen.”

Details of the proposed deal have not been publicly released but reports in local media say NZR is in talks with US firm Silver Lake.

It would reportedly involve the American firm paying NZ$465 million ($325 million) for a 15 percent stake of NZR’s commercial rights and negotiating merchandise and broadcast deals worldwide.

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The focus of the deal is the All Blacks – three-time world champions with a win rate of almost 80 percent, who enjoy global recognition for their style of play and famed haka pre-match challenge.

But senior All Blacks have raised concerns about the proposal’s potential impact on rugby in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Herald reported this month that the New Zealand Rugby Players Association’s approval was needed for the deal to go ahead but it had threatened to exercise its veto.

All Blacks captain Sam Cane was among those who signed a letter to NZR opposing the deal, it reported.

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Robinson acknowledged a letter had been received in January but said the discussion had progressed since then.

“It’s been two months – we’re sharing more and more information and more and more information is coming to hand,” he said.

“I’ve had the opportunity to speak to some senior All Blacks and they remain open-minded to what is being proposed at this stage.”

NZR is expected to vote on the proposal at its annual general meeting next month.

Rugby has proved an attractive investment opportunity for private equity, with CVC Capital Partners this month paying £365 million ($500 million) for a 14 percent stake in the Six Nations tournament.

CVC — which once owned Formula 1 and has significant investments in the English Premiership and Pro14 – said it wanted to “enhance the sporting spectacle” of the tournament and attract a bigger global fan base.

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