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Rugby: Union vote clears way for private equity investment in New Zealand Rugby

AUCKLAND (REUTERS) - A special general meeting of New Zealand Rugby in Auckland voted in favour of a NZ$200 million (S$179 million) private equity investment from US firm Silver Lake on Thursday (June 2), the final step in the approval process for the groundbreaking deal.

The deal, approved in a vote by a majority of the country's provincial unions, values New Zealand Rugby's (NZR) commercial assets at NZ$3.5 billion and will see Silver Lake take 5.71-8.58 per cent of a new entity, NZR CommercialCo.

NZR, whose finances have been buffeted by the Covid-19 pandemic, feel they need the cash injection to keep pace with northern hemisphere rugby powers and to reinvigorate the grass roots of the game.

"This is a transformational moment for rugby in (New Zealand) at every level of the game and will enable us to move forward, change, and take advantage of the massive opportunities in front of us," NZR chairman Stewart Mitchell said in a statement.

The deal has been controversial, however, with some New Zealanders resistant to the idea of any level of foreign ownership of the famous All Blacks brand.

Silver Lake, which has more than US$88 billion (S$121 biillion) in assets, is one of the largest technology investors in the world.

The deal, which has been two years in the making, gives Silver Lake a smaller stake compared with the NZ$387.5 million offered for 12.5 per cent last April.

That deal was rejected by the players' union (NZRPA), which approved the new offering in February after being promised a seat on the board of the new entity.

The 26 provincial unions will receive an immediate cash windfall of up to NZ$1 million each under the deal.

An additional investment ranging from NZ$62.5-100 million will be offered to New Zealand-based institutional investors later this year.

Silver Lake, NZR and the NZRPA will also form an entity called "Global Rugby Opportunities" to invest in global rugby and rugby-related technology businesses outside New Zealand.