New Zealand Rugby backs plan to sell stake in All Blacks to US investors

Wellington (AFP) –


New Zealand Rugby backed a "revolutionary" plan to sell a stake in the famed All Blacks to US investors Thursday, despite opposition from top players.

The NZR's provincial unions unanimously backed the deal with California-based Silver Lake Partners at its annual general meeting in Wellington, with chief executive Mark Robinson describing it as a one-off chance to reset the cash-strapped body's finances.

"We believe it is an exciting and truly transformational opportunity that can benefit the entire game for generations to come," he said.

But the proposal faces a potential veto from the Rugby Players Association -- which represents the sport's elite talent -- some of whom believe the soul of rugby's most storied national team is being sold.

Concerns around the deal have intensified in the wake of the European Super League fiasco, when Europe's top football clubs shelved a US-backed breakaway competition within days, after an outcry from fans and officials.

Under the deal, Silver Lake will pay $280 million for a 12.5 percent stake in New Zealand Rugby's commercial rights, and the right to negotiate merchandise and broadcast deals worldwide.

The focus of the deal is the All Blacks, the three-time world champions recognised globally as rugby's most potent brand.

Robinson said the coronavirus pandemic hit NZR's already strained finances so hard that at one point the governing body's survival was at stake.

He told delegates from provincial unions "the future of the game is in your hands".

NZR chairman Brent Impey described the deal as "compelling" and said it represented "a revolutionary turning point for rugby".

"(It's) a unique opportunity for New Zealand Rugby to drive commercial revenues to... enable investment into the areas of most need," he said.

Impey said he was disappointed the players' association opposed the deal but said the vote showed the wider rugby community supported it.

"You have sent a very, very clear message," he said.