New Zealand Rugby boss Mark Robinson remains optimistic the proposed $465 million deal with United States technology investment giant Silver Lake will gain the necessary support, despite mediation with the Players' Assocation beginning on Wednesday.
Robinson fronted media in Wellington on Tuesday following NZ Rugby's March board meeting. Topics such as the provincial competition retaining the same format for this season, and the likely addition of Moana Pasifika and Fiji Drua to Super Rugby Aotearoa from 2022 were discussed, but the offer from Silver Lake to purchase 15 per cent of NZ Rugby's commercial rights dominated.
Silver Lake's offer will be voted on by the 26 provincial unions at NZ Rugby's annual general meeting mid next month. While the deal is expected to largely gain their support, the Players' Association has, to this point, opposed it.
As part of collective bargaining NZ Rugby requires approval from the Players' Association, who in late January sent a letter detailing a long list of concerns signed by David Kirk, the 1987 All Blacks World Cup-winning captain and NZRPA chairman, and chief executive Rob Nichol on behalf of the players' board which includes All Blacks and Black Ferns stars Sam Cane, Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith, Dane Coles, Sarah Hirini and Selica Winiata.
In outlining NZ Rugby's view that the Silver Lake deal will greatly benefit all levels of the game by providing an immediate cash injection and establishing a future legacy fund, Robinson stressed evolution was needed.
"We do believe it is truly a transformational opportunity for all of the game," Robinson said. "We believe the game needs to change. We believe we have a strong leadership role to play in providing opportunities for that to happen.
"This is an opportunity that we believe has real merit and we want to provide as much information, comfort, security and knowledge that we've done everything possible when we walk into any forum to give people confidence we've done that.
"As great as our legacy has been there's going to be a need to change the way we operate and this provides us with the pathway to leverage those commercial opportunities to invest back into the game.
"Having said that, we know there are conversations that have to be had to make sure everyone is comfortable with the work we're doing."
In terms of opposition from the Players' Association, Robinson welcomed the chance to meet with Nichol and other representatives during a mediation process to tackle their concerns.
"That letter was dated at the end of January," Robinson said. "There's been a whole range of developments in that time since. We're sharing more information all the time.
"I've had the opportunity to speak to some senior All Blacks and they remain very open minded to what is being proposed at this stage. They are committed to wanting what is best for the game in this country at all levels. We'll continue to hopefully have more constructive dialogue with them.
"We appreciate Rob's views and he's been very public about those. We're looking forward to the opportunity to sitting behind closed doors in the coming days and talking through those concerns.
"Ask the questions you need to ask, let's have good open discussions around this, but let's not lose sight of the fact the game needs to change and we need to reposition the way we approach it and not continue to do things the way we have for 130 years.
"Part of our role here is to keep supplying Rob with information and help him understand the state of the game in this country and the potential benefits a partner might bring.
"This is a process where we want everyone in New Zealand rugby to be as comfortable as possible with what this means. It is a fundamental change, but it is something that can be hugely positive for the game. We understand there's a lot of emotion associated with it and that's a good reflection of the care people have for the game in our country."
Outside the Players' Association, Robinson felt there was a broad support from the provincial unions to Super Rugby franchises for the Silver Lake proposal.
"It's only natural in a really important decision-making process that you have different points of view and we'll keep working towards it.
"We're positive that if we provide more and more opportunities to have the dialogue that we are seeking with as many people as possible that we'll get the right outcome for the game."
One concern raised by the Players' Association was the potential sale of Māori and Pasifika culture woven within NZ Rugby, which Robinson quickly dismissed.
"There's been various speculation around the impact this could have on engagement and the way rugby interacts with the New Zealand public, especially Māori and Pasifika communities.
"It can play a fundamental role in allowing people to engage in a totally different way right across the country at all levels, and there would be people from our Māori rugby board willing to talk about the cultural ramifications and fit in this area.
"We don't believe it's our place or other peoples' place to be talking about that. The people most relevant here are the Māori and Pasifika communities."