Silver Lake deal: NZ Rugby urged to consider third option, similar to foreign professional sport franchises


NZ Rugby is being urged to consider a third option, before it signs away a chunk of its commercial revenue with US private equity firm Silver Lake.

A group led by former NZR chief executive David Moffett proposes a co-operative ownership model similar to European football giants Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, and the NFL's Green Bay Packers.

Under the Silver Lake deal, NZR would set up a company called Commercial Co, which would own NZR's commercial rights and Silver Lake would take a 12.5 percent stake for $390 million.

The NZ Players Association opposes the deal, saying the numbers don't add up and that selling off a percentage in perpetuity doesn't make financial sense, sparking a bitter dispute between the two parties.

The NZRPA agrees the game needs a substantial cash injection and, along with investment company Forysth Barr, propose a public share float that could raise about $190 million.

NZR has rejected a public share float, believing it would only appeal to 'mum and dad' investors, and doesn't meet other criteria the Silver Lake deal does.

But Moffett - who was NZR chief executive between 1996-2000, and has also held the same role with the Australian NRL and Welsh Rugby Union - believes a co-operative model is the way forward.

"Both [the Silver Lake and NZRPA share float proposals] have merit, but neither of them satisfies the aspirations of rugby fans or the wider public, who would like to see the full control of rugby - and especially the All Blacks - stay in New Zealand ownership," says Moffett.

"There are many questions to be answered about the Silver Lake offer... [we] request of the NZR a full and frank disclosure of the proposed deal, so that the fans and people of New Zealand can be better informed.

"In respect of the proposed IPO by the NZRPA, we are concerned that if the listing were to go ahead, what, if any, safeguards can be put in place to stop Silver Lake, Rugby Australia or any other non-invited entity from accumulating the bulk of shares in the public company."

Co-operatives are familiar to the NZ business community, says Moffett, citing the likes of Fonterra, Southern Cross and Farmlands.

"This common form of corporate ownership in New Zealand does not carry the listed public company requirements of compliance, and share price and market risk," he says.

David Moffett
David Moffett Photo credit: Photosport

Moffett suggests a co-op could raise similar levels of funding to the Forsyth Barr share float proposal.

"Indeed, it is entirely possible... the capital raise suggested in an IPO could be exceeded, but equally as important, the cost of sourcing and servicing the capital and repayments will be substantially less than the other options, which will mean more funds available to NZR."

The fundamental difference with a co-operative, says Moffett, is that the organisation can develop its own rules and regulations to meet the needs of its members - a key objective when dealing with the unique nature of sports.

It is based on a vote per member, not the number of shares held - therefore no one group can acquire a controlling interest

A co-operative doesn't require cash dividends, but rather provides members benefits and there can be different classes of shares-membership that allows differentiation of the type of investment meaning there could be a range of classes including Super Rugby franchises, provincial unions, player associations and public, for example.

"The motivation for putting forward this option is that, given the significance, and relative permanence of the decision and its subsequent consequences, we believe it is imperative that all options are on the table and given appropriate consideration, to ensure that there is no doubt in anyone's mind that the final decision is made with full consideration of all options available, along with their relative benefits and risks."