A late tweak has been made to New Zealand Rugby's proposed Silver Lake deal, while the Players' Association continue to rally against the deal ahead of NZ Rugby's annual general meeting in Wellington. Liam Napier reports.
Three weeks of mediation talks between New Zealand Rugby and the Players' Association have failed to reach a resolution on the proposed Silver Lake deal.
After six lengthy and expensive days involving New Zealand Rugby boss Mark Robinson, Players Association chief executive Rob Nichol and other powerbrokers, mediated by Mike Heron QC, the parties are understood to be no closer in their opposing views on the divisive prospect of selling a minority stake to the US technology investment giants.
One more day of mediation is set down for early next week, before NZ Rugby's annual general meeting in Wellington where the 26 cash-strapped provincial unions are expected to vote in favour of selling a now 12.5 per cent stake in the national body's commercial rights.
The 12 Heartland unions have already expressed their public support for the Silver Lake deal, saying they believed it was vital to futureproof the grassroots game.
Silver Lake's original offer of $465 million was for a 15 per cent share of NZ Rugby's commercial rights. The 12.5 per cent share is understood to have reduced that figure to around $387.5 million, having valued NZ Rugby's commercial rights at $3.1 billion.
The Players' Association, in a last-ditch attempt to persuade the provincial unions to consider alternative revenue-raising approaches ahead of next week's vote, hosted a call on Thursday where Nichol was flanked by 1987 World Cup-winning captain David Kirk, the Players' Association president, and All Blacks centre Conrad Smith, who is a qualified lawyer in addition to playing 94 tests.
The Herald understands the Players' Association pushed alternatives such as debt servicing – borrowing funds to hire external expertise aimed at monetising untapped All Blacks fans abroad and investing in platforms such as streaming or gaming concepts, or selling a stake in NZ Rugby's commercial rights as low as five per cent.
These alternatives were tabled in a letter, signed by leading All Blacks including captain Sam Cane and Sam Whitelock, sent by the Players' Association to NZ Rugby in late January. The letter also raised concerns around loss of control and future revenue, with little progress made on these issues during mediation since then.
Kirk declined to comment when approached by the Herald this week while Nichol said mediation was "progressing progressively".
Provincial unions spoken to by the Herald were not swayed by Thursday's presentation but some are nervous about voting in favour of the Silver Lake deal and leaving the Players' Association in the kingmaker position.
As part of the collective bargaining process, NZ Rugby needs the Players' Association approval to sign-off the landmark deal.
To this point at least, Silver Lake are said to be prepared to wait but their patience is certain to be tested with mediation between NZR and the Players' Association set to drag on well past next week's annual general meeting, with no straightforward solution in sight to break the deadlock.
This week it was revealed World Rugby could be on the verge of going down a similar private investment path by selling a stake in the World Cup's commercial rights.
The global governing body has hired investment bankers Jefferies – the same outfit NZ Rugby used in its private investment tender process – and Rothschild to handle a review of its options for securing new funds that would be ploughed into under-represented areas of the game.
This follows private investment company CVC Capital Partners purchasing minority stakes in the Six Nations, England's Premiership Rugby and Pro16 tournaments in recent times.