Matt Nippert is a business investigations journalist.

Richie rich: The value of Brand McCaw

Retired All Black skipper creates an income base that reveals a canny eye for shrewd investments. Matt Nippert reports.

Does Richie McCaw miss rugby? Sports management expert Geoff Dickson thinks the former All Black captain's famously aching feet - but also his bank balance - would say no.

"He'd probably struggle to go back to playing rugby now, because he'd have to take a pay cut," he says.

Dickson, who teaches sports management at AUT, reckons the $1 million annual salary McCaw got from playing the game will have been easily replaced by new opportunities after he hung up his boots. And his time playing rugby has set him up to be financially independent, with Herald investigations finding he has accumulated at least $5 million in property and retirement home investments.

McCaw's financial management appears to be similar to his style of play on the rugby field: a preference for graft over flash, but also with a shrewd eye for an opportunity.

The former All Black captain has accumulated six properties - four houses and two bare sections. One property, in Wanaka valued at $650,000, is understood to have been built by Versatile Homes as part-payment for his long-running association with the construction company.

He's avoided over-capitalising his home, with his primary residence having fairly typical dimensions (205sq m) and a rateable valuation of $1.05 million - above-average in Christchurch but wouldn't stand out at all in Auckland.

McCaw appears conservative in his approach to debt, with only one property listed as subject to a mortgage. While the properties have a combined rateable valuation of $2.6 million, McCaw's most substantial investment - running into the millions - appears to have been Christchurch rest homes.

Alongside Crusaders and All Black teammates Dan Carter, Kieran Read, Andy Ellis and Aaron Mauger, McCaw - or his trust - was a common fixture on the shareholding lists of more than a dozen retirement villages over the past decade.

Richie McCaw of the All Blacks poses during the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby World Cup team announcement at Parliament House on August 30, 2015. Photo / Getty Images
Richie McCaw of the All Blacks poses during the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby World Cup team announcement at Parliament House on August 30, 2015. Photo / Getty Images

The bulk of McCaw's holdings were rolled up and floated on the NZX in late 2014 as Arvida. According to an analysis of the company's prospectus and various rest home shareholding lists filed with the Companies Office, it appears McCaw's stake in Arvida stood at just under 1 per cent at the time it listed in late 2014. While a small stake, its value was nonetheless considerable, with Herald calculations suggesting it was worth in excess of $2.5 million.

Subsequent shareholding lists filed by the retirement home operators to the Companies Office appear to show McCaw has since sold down his holdings. A November disclosure showed McCaw's remaining stake stood at just 105,000 shares, worth around $107,000 at last week's prices.

Rounding out McCaw's portfolio are small equity stakes in local businesses - including a quarry and recruitment firm - and a directorship and one-quarter stake in flying school and aircraft charter Christchurch Helicopters.

But earnings from these will likely pale into insignificance compared to McCaw's main earner - trading on his reputation.

Dickson says: "The big advantage McCaw has is that he's now a free agent. He's no longer employed by the New Zealand Rugby Union and can chart his own course."

Having built a career as the longest-serving All Black, topped by captaining back-to-back Rugby World Cup-winning teams, McCaw has an enviable reputation and one that commercial partners are keen to associate with.

He now has more formal "brand ambassadorships" (nine) than he has Tri-Nations titles with the All Blacks (eight).

He's extended into his retirement associations struck while playing with financial firms Westpac, Mastercard and AIG, appears to open new routes for national carrier Air New Zealand, landed one of a handful of tie-ins with apparel company adidas, and he's used in internal and external advertising by New Zealand outfits Fonterra and Versatile Homes.

Then there's the list of sponsors understood to have already been paying him $1.5 million a year.

During the Rugby World Cup he unveiled a short-term association with Apple-owned headphones company Beats - who also pegged their high-end brand during the event to England's Chris Robshaw and France's Wesley Fofana - and last month McCaw inked the first deal of his post-playing career by signing on as a "friend" of luxury carmarker Mercedes-Benz.

The ex-All Black captain was off-grid this week in the Abel Tasman National Park competing in the multi-day Godzone adventure race, but his manager, Dean Hegan of Essentially Group, was keen to downplay talk of millions of sponsor dollars and instead emphasise his client's non-commercial activities.

Richie McCaw holds aloft the Webb Ellis Trophy after winning the Rugby World Cup Final. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Richie McCaw holds aloft the Webb Ellis Trophy after winning the Rugby World Cup Final. Photo / Brett Phibbs

"It's not all about commercial tie-ins, absolutely not. He gives a lot back, and he spends a lot of time doing that. You've seen him complete the Godzone race: His team managed to raise nearly $300,000 for Cure Kids," he says.

If anyone understands the commercial demands on, and opportunities for, rugby players, it's Phil Kingsley Jones. The verbose Welshman burst on to the scene as the agent for Jonah Lomu in the 1990s.

Those were early, heady days where no one quite knew how branding and endorsements worked, he says. He talks of early opportunistic sponsors who offered practically nothing for a tie-in. "Honestly, it was like that back in the day. They offered a meat pack or a fruit basket. Can you believe the cheek of it? We were the first ones who started saying 'No. You've got to pay us'."

Kingsley Jones thinks McCaw's commercial potential still isn't near that of his former client. Breaking out of the relative niche of rugby union is difficult, he says.

"Jonah was the biggest. He might not have been the best player, which is a different question, but he was the biggest. We'd do A Question of Sport and Jonah would get as much as David Beckham."

The question of whether "Brand McCaw" has truly global appeal is also answered in the negative by AUT's Dickson. "At a substantial level I would think no. I could see him featuring in some sort of campaign in South Africa, France or Great Britain, but only really in a peripheral role. I couldn't see him endorsing or being the face of a campaign anywhere except New Zealand."

But on the credit side of McCaw's ledger, Kingsley Jones says professionalism of player management has grown alongside the code and McCaw is in good hands with the Essentially Group.

Hegan says any contracts are closely scrutinised to ensure the deals are fair, but also to avoid tarnishing McCaw's brand.

Hegan says McCaw's dance card is pretty much full and they're happy that his current suite of associations strikes the right balance between maximising earnings and avoiding overexposure.

Dickson says if he plays his card right, McCaw's post-retirement career as brand ambassador - even if relatively modest by global standards - could well last longer than his epic 15-year stretch with the All Blacks.

"The difference between McCaw and others is that most athletes, when they leave the sport or retire from the sport, become far less valuable. They're not sustainable as celebrity endorsers. McCaw, with all his achievements and leadership, is certainly the exception to the rule."

- NZ Herald

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