The provincial unions have voted in favour of New Zealand Rugby's pitch to sell a stake to an American investor at today's annual general meeting in Wellington.
New Zealand’s 26 provincial unions voted a short time ago on a recommendation from NZR that it should bundle its commercial interests into a new entity and sell a 12.5 percent stake in that entity to California-based Silver Lake Partners for $387.5 million.
The vote was carried vocally with all 26 saying "aye" and a quick silence filling the room when NZR chairman Brent Impey asked if anyone against wanted to say "no".
The motion was then carried by Impey before applause erupted.
Impey thanked the unions for their support, saying "what you just did was incredibly significant so thank you".
The deal has been hotly-debated in the build-up to today's decision with the New Zealand Rugby Players Association threatening to block the deal, saying New Zealand rugby's Māori and Pasifika culture is "not for sale", and it was worried a deal could ruin the sport's relationship with fans.
The stance came from a letter written earlier this year which was signed by David Kirk, the 1987 All Blacks World Cup-winning captain along with NZRPA chief executive Rob Nichol, All Blacks captain Sam Cane, All Blacks Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith, Dane Coles and Black Ferns Sarah Hirini and Selica Winiata.
Impey said NZR will continue mediating with the players' representatives, although he found it disappointing they have not given their consent.
“The game has to change, and Silver Lake’s capital injection would allow us to re-imagine rugby and invest in the areas of the community game that need it most, particularly teenage and women’s rugby, and to create better and more engaging experiences for our fans," he said.
“The players are a critical part of this journey, but we have to look at what is right across all levels of the game, our whole eco-system. We hope the NZRPA will realise the significance of the opportunity in front of us and will continue to work toward an agreement in coming weeks.”
Ngāti Toa have also raised concerns though, telling 1 NEWS earlier this month they had yet to have any contact from NZR about the deal despite their iwi's famous tupuna, Te Rauparaha, being the creator of the Ka Mate haka, which the All Blacks frequently perform.
However, NZR officials have argued the sale is necessary to secure the future financial sustainability of rugby in New Zealand after the governing body's finances were hit hard last year by the Covid-19 pandemic to the tune of a $34.6 million loss.
In documents presented at this morning's annual meeting, NZR proposed transferring its commercial assets to a new company to be called Commercial LP and to transfer NZ$43.75 million from the sale price to that entity as operating capital.
A further NZ$39 million will be distributed to stakeholders, mainly the provincial unions, who are also cash-strapped after last year’s disrupted season.
NZR said it will also establish a legacy fund for “longer-term strategic initiatives to ensure the sustainability of all levels of rugby in New Zealand.”
Silver Lake Partners was launched in 1999 and has focused mainly on investment in the technology sector with holdings in companies such as Airbnb, Twitter and Dell Technologies.
It also holds a stake in City Football Group which owns the English Premier League club Manchester City and which it lists in its Content and Entertainment industry vertical.