Silver Lake-NZR deal approved; Māori board gets $2m

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

From left to right: NZR chief executive Mark Robinson, deputy chair and Māori representative Farah Palmer, chair Stewart Mitchell, Manawatu Rugby Board chair Tim Myers. 

The Māori Rugby Board will receive $2 million from an immediate payout as part of a newly signed deal between New Zealand Rugby and US private equity firm Silver Lake.

A special general meeting in Auckland today saw 89 votes for and one against in a secret ballot of the 26 provincial rugby unions and the Māori Rugby Board.

Silver Lake will own 5.71-8.58 per cent of NZR CommercialCo (a newly created company), representing a $200-300 million investment, depending on capital requirements and institutional investor interest in New Zealand.

The Māori Rugby Board will immediately collect $2 million while the NPC unions will share $14 million and heartland unions  $6 million for domestic rugby.

The new company will take over and manage all of NZ Rugby's commercial properties such as broadcast and sponsorship contracts, test ticket sales and digital assets. A global search will be made for a chief executive and $38 million will be available to recruit staff and fund initiatives.

CommercialCo's board will have an independent chair, two Silver Lake members, five NZ Rugby members and one Rugby Players Association member (widely tipped to be All Black great Richie McCaw).

NZR Chair Stewart Mitchell has called this a transformational moment for the sport in Aotearoa at every level of the game.

“I would like to thank the provincial unions, the Māori Rugby Board and the Players’ Association for their support, and Silver Lake for their patience and understanding of the values and traditions of rugby in Aotearoa as we have worked through the complex details of this proposal,” Mitchell says.

Back and forth

The two-year-long process saw a lot of drama between NZR and the New Zealand Rugby Players Association last year, with the association concerned about the commercialisation of Māori and Pasifika cultures.

Tikanga Māori and te ao Māori are concepts NZ Rugby deputy chair Dr Farah Palmer has said the Māori Rugby Board will remain kaitiaki of.

In February this year, NZ Māori Rugby Board deputy chair Doug Jones said Māori rugby would be an immediate beneficiary of the deal.