Mon 8 Mar 2021 | 09:07

Cash-strapped Rugby Australia to seek private equity funding

Cash-strapped Rugby Australia to seek private equity funding
Mon 8 Mar 2021 | 09:07
Cash-strapped Rugby Australia to seek private equity funding
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NEWS: Rugby Australia has approved plans to seek an injection of private equity, which chairman Hamish McLennan said had the potential to spark “an incredibly exciting period” for the cash-strapped game.

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While private investment deals have occurred in European rugby, and New Zealand Rugby is exploring alternative funding sources, the concept is new for Australia.

“The RA board met last week and has approved a pathway forward to private equity proposals,” McLennan told The Australian newspaper late Sunday, in comments that an RA official confirmed to AFP.

“We are tidying up a few loose ends with potential advisers and this will have the potential to chart an incredibly exciting period for rugby in Australia.”

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Like many other sports, the Covid-19 shutdown last year exacerbated financial strains on RA, which was already struggling after a hefty payment to former Wallaby Israel Folau following his sacking over controversial social media comments.

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They have also been hit by reduced match revenues, a downgraded broadcast deal and the loss of long-time sponsor Qantas.

The organisation posted a nearly Aus$10 million (US$7.7 million) deficit for 2019, with its 2020 numbers due for release in the coming months.

It is unclear whether RA plans to sell only the Super Rugby component of its business or whether it might emulate New Zealand Rugby and consider a whole-of-business approach that would include the Wallabies.

US private equity firm Silver Lake is reported to be offering around US$340 million for a 15 percent share of commercial rights in the All Blacks – the ultimate brand in the sport.

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“We will do what is right for us,” said McLennan, who took over last May after a period of extraordinary upheaval for Rugby Australia, which included the resignation of chief executive Raelene Castle.

Silver Lake and CVC Capital Partners, which holds a stake in England’s Premiership and the Pro14 provincial competition, are among those who could be in the mix, the RA official said.

Australian billionaire Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest is another potential contender.

The mining tycoon is a keen rugby supporter, setting up the six-team Asia-Pacific Global Rapid Rugby competition after his beloved Western Force was kicked out of Super Rugby in 2017.

“He has that twinkle in his eye and I am sure he will have a swing,” McLennan said.

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