Silver Lake closes in on deal to take stake in New Zealand All Blacks

Silver Lake, the American private equity firm, is closing in on a deal for one of the biggest commercial prizes in global sport: a stake in the New Zealand All Blacks rugby union team.

Sky News has learnt that Silver Lake and New Zealand Rugby, the sport’s national governing body, are on the brink of finalising a deal that would see the investor acquire a minority shareholding in a new commercial holding company.

Details of the transaction were unclear on Wednesday although the stake is thought to be smaller than the 15% envisaged when the deal was initially mooted just over a year ago.

Image: A deal would be likely to value the All Blacks’ commercial rights at more than £1.5bn

One sports industry insider said an agreement between the two sides and the New Zealand Rugby Players Association (NZRPA) was now imminent, and that it could involve a stake of not much more than 5%.

A deal, which would be likely to value the All Blacks’ commercial rights at more than £1.5bn, could be announced as soon as this month.


If successfully concluded, the agreement would follow months of painstaking negotiations aimed at brokering an agreement between one of the world’s largest private equity investors in sport, the governing body and the players’ union.

The players have at times during that period appeared to be reluctant to sanction a deal, with the former New Zealand captain David Kirk reportedly saying during his tenure as president of the NZRPA: “It’s [equity in the All Blacks’ commercial rights] not ours to sell.

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“How does this generation of administrators have the right to sell 130 years of custodianship? New Zealanders own it, that’s what makes it so valuable.”

The All Blacks are arguably the most globally recognisable team in any sport, drawing audiences from around the world.

Image: Silver Lake already owns a stake in the parent company of Manchester City Football Club

Silver Lake, which has been a prolific acquirer of sports-related businesses, including a stake in the parent company of Manchester City Football Club and Australian top-flight football, believes it can work with the governing body and players’ union to build the team’s international following.

It is the latest major rugby union rights-holder to explore a transaction of this nature.

CVC Capital Partners, another buyout firm, has amassed stakes in Six Nations Rugby, Premiership Rugby Limited and other tournaments in Europe.

World Rugby, the global governing body, has also been examining plans to sell stakes in the commercial rights to the Sevens franchise and the Rugby World Cup.

Silver Lake is one of the world’s leading technology investors, indicating that its partnership with the All Blacks will focus on building its digital and media rights strategy.

Mark Robinson, the NZR chief executive who himself is a former All Black, said in an interview in late 2020 that monetising a stake in the union had become an option after COVID-19 ravaged its financial reserves.

“We are open to looking at partners who may invest in New Zealand Rugby,” he told the New Zealand Herald at the time.

“It’s only right for us as we look at doing the best possible things for the game and trying to explore all avenues that we investigate something like this.”

Rugby union has, like many other sports, seen its finances hit by the pandemic, although the easing of lockdown restrictions in many countries has enabled elite sports to stage a partial recovery.

Other private equity firms have also expressed an interest in investing in the All Blacks, but none are thought to have progressed to an advanced stage.

Silver Lake and New Zealand Rugby both declined to comment.