Whanganui Rugby Union chairman Jeff Phillips is backing the proposed $387 million offer by a private equity investor to buy into the All Blacks brand.
Phillips said he was concerned not everyone understood what the proposed deal between New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and Californian-based Silver Lake Management involved.
He said it did not mean the All Blacks were for sale or that New Zealand was is in danger of losing the iconic rugby franchise.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," Phillips said.
"If the deal was to go ahead NZR would set up a subsidiary company called Com Co that would be tasked with growing the commercial side of the All Blacks brand worldwide.
"NZR would continue as the stand-alone parent looking after the game here from grassroots upwards. Silver Lake's offer would give it a 12.5 per cent share of Com Co that would have eight board members – five from NZR, one independent and two from Silver Lake.
"Not only would we still have total control at board level, but NZR would still own 87.5 per cent of Com Co and 100 per cent of NZR. The Com Co board would also need unanimous agreement before anything is passed.
"This is not about selling our national game or the All Blacks. The game is safe, the jersey is safe and so is the haka and our IP (Intellectual Property)."
Phillips sits on the NZR appointments and remuneration committee, a group that has just appointed private equity expert Mark Hutton to the NZR board.
"Mark Hutton is well versed in private equity and was a founding director of Direct Capital which is New Zealand's leading private company Investor with over 25 years' experience in the private equity industry," Phillips said.
"If he fits in well, he could be one of the NZR directors on the Com Co board."
Silver Lake currently has US$104 billion of assets and included in the group's sporting stable are the likes of the mighty Manchester City English football club (valued at US$1.4b), American ice hockey club New York Rangers ($1.6b) and baseball club New York Knicks (valued at over $1b).
A latter acquisition includes the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) mixed martial arts brand that includes Kiwi fighters like former Whanganui fighter and UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.
Phillips was well aware the Silver Lake offer had yet to be taken up, but was hopeful it would.
"It has the unanimous backing of every rugby union in the country, including Whanganui and the other Heartland unions and Māori Rugby. The only group with concerns at this stage is the Players Association (NZRPA)," he said.
"I know there are quite a few very intelligent people in the Players Association and I am confident once they fully understand the potential an expert like Silver Lake has to grow the All Blacks brand, they will come on board."
A disagreement between the two parties is the major sticking point in the deal proceeding and the deal cannot proceed without the blessing of the NZRPA.
Its president David Kirk said there was mediation going on with NZR.
"The players are not asking for anything more than they currently have. It's really important to make that clear," Kirk said.
" ... the players are not asking for any additional money in terms of the percentage of player-generated revenue that they take.
"There's been a long-standing agreement and understanding between New Zealand Rugby and the players about what percentage of money needs to be set aside for the players, to keep our best players in New Zealand ... no one's proposing any change to that.
"What's changed is that because New Zealand Rugby is selling 12.5 per cent of their revenue, because that makes the game unprofitable, New Zealand Rugby are looking to reduce the player's share significantly in order to pay for, what we think, is a bad deal."
If the deal went ahead the cash injection from Silver Lake would come in four tranches over a period of time.
Phillips said around $39 million of the first installment would go to provincial unions, the referees association, Māori rugby and clubs throughout the country.
"We wouldn't get the entire $387 million in one lump, it would come in four tranches and setting up Com Co would also take some of that first installment, but remember, NZR currently has about 20 staff working on grants, sponsorship deals and other commercial aspects. They would be transferred over to Com Co freeing up maybe $20 million or so of NZR's annual operating costs.
"We haven't discussed in any detail what we would do with any funding the Whanganui union received should the deal go ahead, but as chairman I would like to see some salted away and the interest generated used to grow grassroots rugby, including the women's game where there is huge potential.
"Who knows, this deal could also mean a women's Heartland competition. We already have a women's super rugby competition and an NPC equivalent with the Farah Palmer Cup, so why not a Heartland division?"
Women's rugby legend and NZR board member Dr Farah Palmer agrees.
Palmer, is associate dean and senior lecturer at the Massey University School of Management, chairwoman of the New Zealand Māori Rugby board and the first woman to be elected to the New Zealand Rugby board in its 124-year history.
Palmer was one of six women inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame in November 2014 and in 2016, the Women's Provincial Championship was renamed the Farah Palmer Cup in her honour.
She captained the Black Ferns to win the 2006 World Cup after beating England 25-17 in the final.
She is also hard-wired to the Whanganui union as its NZR "board buddy". Each provincial union has a "board buddy" at national level.
"We have all been struggling to keep our head above water, a lot of unions and clubs are struggling," Palmer said.
"When I can I like to get out there and smell the liniment in the heartland and I can see the struggle.
"For a while people have been telling us to live within our means and we've had several reviews looking at options, but after doing our due diligence I believe the private equity deal is the way to go.
"The cash injection we receive will filter down through the provinces. I believe it will benefit Māori rugby, help with initiatives to attract and keep teenage boys in the game and certainly help with growing the women's game – that's a huge growth area and, yes, it may well mean a women's Heartland division at some stage.
"The Silver Lake deal is not about selling the All Blacks, it's about getting a much-needed cash injection and growing the commercial side of our business while still maintaining ownership and control of the game."