New Zealand Rugby have announced a loss of $1.9m for the 2018 financial year at its AGM meeting in Wellington today.
Despite the losses, NZ Rugby are still 44 per cent ahead of budget thanks to 68m in commercial sponsorships and licencing income.
NZ Rugby chair Brent Impey said last year set a benchmark for investment in rugby at $191m which was fuelled by profits from the 2017 Lions Series, but admitted there are challenging times ahead for the sport.
"Although we are pleased with our latest financial result these are still challenging times for rugby as we look further ahead," Impey said.
"The pressure to retain our talent and support the growth in our community game puts pressure on our long-term financial projections."
Impey praised NZ Rugby's commercial team and its growth, while also commending the organisation for retaining 87 per cent of its contracted players in 2018 in an increasingly competitive environment.
He added that pending broadcast discussions would be critical in setting NZ Rugby up for success beyond 2020.
"Agility and pace are now mantras for us as leaders of the game. NZR can and must show leadership, but we need our stakeholders as partners. None of us have all the answers," he said.
"In this world, new cultures of co-operation, sharing of information, being open to new structures, and being prepared to question the status quo must be our new norm."
NZ Rugby COO Nicki Nicol said the profits generated by the Lions Series had been invested in key areas.
"We need to ensure profits are spread over a number of years and in a Rugby World Cup year, we are aware that with the absence of the Steinlager Series and an abbreviated Investec Rugby Championship, results will be different in 2019.
"The largest investments were in our people and the game with a record $63m spent on the player payment pool. A further $32m was invested into our 26 Provincial Unions and collectively they achieved strong underlying results in 2018."
Last year was also a landmark year for women's rugby with the first Black Ferns professional contracts signed in 2018 and past and present players capped for the first time. New Zealand were also announced as the 2021 Women's Rugby World Cup hosts.
NZ Rugby chief executive Steve Tew was pleased with the rise of women's rugby, but also stressed the importance of addressing the falling numbers of participation in schoolboy rugby.
"It was really pleasing to see an increased number of New Zealanders signing up to play the game in 2018. This was again led by a strong increase in female registrations," he said. "This year we ran Quick Rip competitions across the country involving 84 secondary schools, encouraging younger kids to participate in an easy-form of the game.
"The NZR-led Secondary School Review shed light on the falling numbers of secondary school boys registering to play our sport and now we have clarity over the steps we need to take to address this. It will be a major focus in 2019."
Tew also said it was important to ensure rugby was truly a game for all New Zealanders.
"The introduction of the Respect and Inclusion priority on our scoreboard helps us to hold ourselves accountable for our culture and how we behave.
"We have introduced training programmes within provincial unions and our rugby community on domestic violence and child protection which help ensure we have safer rugby environments and highlight the positive impact we can have on society."
NZ Rugby's 2018 highlights:
• Record $191m invested in rugby in New Zealand
• Financial result ahead of budget, but challenges ahead
• New Zealand teams celebrate year of on-field success
• Female player numbers continue to drive growth
• Shaun Nixon elected to NZR Board, Bill Osborne elected as President
• 17 percent growth in income over 2016
• $68m in sponsorship and licensing revenue
• $31m invested into game development
• $8m invested in women's rugby
• $1m invested in Respect and Inclusion programme
• $3m invested in digital technology development
• $2m invested in ACC's RugbySmart programme aimed at preventing injury
Highlights from NZ Rugby's teams:
• All Blacks won all the major trophies they played for with 12 wins, two losses, while retaining the number one world ranking for a staggering 10th year
• Black Ferns retained the Laurie O'Reilly Memorial Trophy against Australia also retaining their number one world ranking
• Black Ferns Sevens and All Blacks Sevens both crowned World Champions
• Black Ferns Sevens and All Blacks Sevens both won Commonwealth Games Gold medals
• Baby Ferns Sevens won U18 Gold medal at Youth Olympics
• Māori All Blacks beat Chile and Brazil during historic South America tour
• Crusaders won ninth Super Rugby title
• Overall player numbers continued to grow to 157,218, driven by a 14.6 percent increase in female players to 27,838. Male player numbers fell by 1.8 percent to 129,380