Former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick has thrown his weight behind US investment firm Silver Lake’s bid to buy 15 per cent of NZ Rugby for $465 million, despite the reservations of some current stars.
With mediation over the deal expected to continue between the NZ Rugby and the Players Association today, Fitzpatrick was unequivocal in his support for Silver Lake’s bid.
“Silver Lake has presented to us, to be honest it looks like a very good deal,” he told Breakfast.
The UK-based All Blacks great said he had a unique view having read early reports on the deal while overseas, before becoming more familiar with the details by speaking with agents to current players, former coaches and players, as well as Silver Lake since returning to Aotearoa.
He said, “what is quite clear is that we need investment in New Zealand Rugby” because the game was, in his view, “not sustainable, globally not just here in New Zealand”.
Fitzpatrick did not share concerns from the Players Association that the deal could damage the relationship between New Zealanders and NZ Rugby’s brands, most notably the All Blacks.
“I don’t see that at all. I only see it enhancing our game,” he said.
“I’m a fan, you and I are shareholders. We talk about the five million shareholders of the All Blacks and NZ Rugby and that’s how I see it. This is only going to enhance it.
“Make the NZ Rugby brand, which are all their brands, much better. I just can’t see how that is going to harm the fabric of our game, which we’re injecting money into the grassroots.”
The retention of All Blacks would also be the result of the cash injection, Fitzpatrick said.
“We won’t be able to keep our leading players here in New Zealand. It’s all very well looking after the grassroots and the community-based game but ultimately the reason NZ Rugby is successful is because we have this great All Black machine that year-in, year-out produces these quality players,” he said.
“Unfortunately, if we haven’t got money, that’s what I’m saying, Steve Tew and the previous regime did a phenomenal job keeping our leading players in New Zealand and that’s not going to be sustainable.”
Silver Lake is probably paying overs for the slice of NZ Rugby, such was the allure of the All Blacks, Fitzpatrick said.
“It is a fantastic brand, in terms of what New Zealand Rugby projects globally. It is one of the best sporting brands in the world. It’s probably why Silver Lake are so desperate. They’re probably paying over and above what they should be for NZ Rugby,” he said.
The US investment firm’s current portfolio includes a 10 per cent stake in the owners of English football powerhouse Manchester City, and a similar stake in the owners of the NBA's New York Knicks.
Fitzpatrick says Silver Lake’s expertise in growing sporting businesses is what NZ Rugby needs.
“It is a great opportunity to grow the game, not just here in New Zealand, but grow it globally, grow the fanbase. That’s what they’re good at is that technical expertise at growing the fanbase,” he said.
“How do we consume the game? The content they create engages people, which is what we need.”