Silver Lake deal good for Māori rugby, chance for iwi investment

By James Perry

Māori rugby is expected to be an immediate beneficiary of a massive $300m dollar deal between NZ Rugby and international investment firm Silver Lake.

NZ Māori Rugby Board deputy chair Doug Jones says an initial "short-term investment" will be distributed across the rugby community, and Māori rugby will be the beneficiaries alongside the provincial unions, Super Rugby and rugby clubs.

“We’re trying to provide the benefit of this deal right down to the club level at the grassroots,” he says.

Jones says it starts an exciting future for Māori rugby in Aotearoa. Under the deal, a new entity called “Global Rugby Opportunities” will be created where NZR, NZ Rugby Players Association and Silver Lake will together invest in global rugby and rugby-related technology.

The Māori All Blacks have had limited opportunities in recent years to play many games because of Covid-19, but even before that, there were only a handful of games on offer each year, largely in the Pacific, or against Tier 2 or 3 international teams. That could change with GRO.

More Māori games

“That will hopefully provide some opportunity for the Māori All Blacks to play a lot more games, whether it’s here in front of their whānau, or abroad and really put our brand out there. The opportunities will be there as part of this deal,” Jones says.

The revised deal approved this week by the NZR board and NZ Rugby Players Association is about half what was first approved last year. Jones confirms that protections around areas like haka that the Māori Rugby negotiated in that first deal will remain.

“Those have all been carried over into this refreshed deal. That was really around intellectual property, branding and protection mechanisms that different iwi or composers have. We’ve been able to protect that deal, so we’re happy about that one.

The arrangement with Silver Lake will see the US-based firm invest $200m for a 5% stake in a new company that will control NZ Rugby’s commercial interests. New Zealand institutional investors will also be able to invest up to another $100m. Jones says the Māori board is looking into how iwi could play a role in this venture.

Different value proposition

“The benefit of being Māori and combining that with rugby is that we offer a different value proposition to everyone else, whether it’s provincial rugby, Super Rugby, we have that direct connection with iwi.

“It’s about how do we create new relationships with our iwi partners who are major players whether you’re talking economically, socially, culturally, we’ve got to utilise that and make that part of what NZ rugby is all about and what Māori rugby is about.

“We’re trying to leverage those opportunities and hopefully this deal enables some of those opportunities to happen. Really exciting times for us at the moment, how we can insert iwi into this space, which is going to be great.”

Jones says other than the opportunities this historic deal provides, the Māori Board has used its influence to effect change across NZR, including helping NZR develop a new strategy for the game's governing body as well as a Māori rugby strategy. He says the future is looking positive for Māori rugby.

A new Māori rugby programme manager role within NZR has been created, which will see the rollout of the Māori rugby strategy, which will be aligned to the overall NZR strategy.

“So there’s a lot of work that’s about to happen in the Māori rugby space. It’s exciting times for us. We’re looking forward to what’s ahead of us in the next few months,” Jones says.