Several leading All Blacks and Black Ferns say they will veto Silver Lake’s bid for a stake in New Zealand Rugby (NZR).
The US-based private equity giant has offered £235m for 15 per cent of NZR’s commercial rights, which the deal values at £1.5bn.
If successful, it would be the latest investment by private equity into rugby, following CVC Capital Partners’ purchase of a minority stake in the Six Nations.
But the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association (NZRPA), which must approve any transaction, has written to NZR warning of its opposition.
Captain Sam Cane and fellow All Blacks Aaron Smith, Sam Whitelock and Dane Coles are reported to have signed the letter.
Other signatories include Black Fern Selica Winiata and Black Ferns Sevens captain Sarah Hirini.
“We have concluded that we will not grant approval for the restructure and sale proposed by NZR,” says the letter, which was published by the New Zealand Herald.
Rugby, like most sports, has seen revenues cut dramatically during the pandemic, and even its most famous brand has not been immune.
NZR used up half of its cash reserves in the first few months of lockdown, chief executive Mark Robinson said in November.
‘Risk of cultural misappropriation’
The NZRPA letter, however, argues that a deal with Silver Lake would jeopardise the “special and distinctive relationship” between the country and its rugby teams.
“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 NZRPA adds that its members feel uncomfortable with selling a stake in an asset intertwined with Maori and Pacifica culture.
“There is an inherent risk of real or perceived cultural misappropriation given Silver Lake is an Anglo-American private equity firm.”
Silver Lake is known for investing in technology companies such as Twitter, Skype and Airbnb but also has a minority stake in Manchester City’s parent company.
The correspondence also raises concerns that aligning with one private equity firm might out NZR at odds with other rugby stakeholders, given CVC’s investment in the Six Nations and other entities in the club game.
It adds: “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.”