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New Zealand’s 26 provincial unions on Thursday unanimously approved the sale of a 12.5% stake in the commercial arm of New Zealand Rugby (NZR), including the All Blacks national team, to U.S. private equity firm Silver Lake.

The All Blacks are by far New Zealand’s biggest sports brand and one of the most successful teams in international sports, winning more than 75% of the matches they have played.

The deall worth 387.5 million New Zealand dollars ($281.8 million), which values NZR’s commercial rights at NZ$2.23 billion, still needs to be approved by the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association (NZRPA), which has expressed reservations.

“We are thrilled that our Provincial Unions … have recognized the importance of private equity in driving commercial revenue and enabling investment to ensure rugby thrives and survives into the future,” NZR’s outgoing chairman Brent Impey said.

“Today’s vote for Silver Lake represents a transformational opportunity for our game and one we must grasp.” NZR, which also announced an operating loss of NZ$18.7 million at Thursday’s annual general meeting, has promised there will be an influx of money into grassroots rugby if the Silver Lake deal goes through.

The NZRPA, backed by All Blacks captain Sam Cane, wrote to NZR in January saying it would block the sale, citing concerns over a loss of control and the risk of “cultural misappropriation,” according to New Zealand media.

On Thursday, NZPRA chief executive Rob Nichol said the union had put negotiations with NZR on hold “for a few weeks.” “Between us, we need to resolve what the collective (agreement) will look like beyond this year in order for the players to respond to NZR’s request for approval of the proposed Silver Lake transaction,” he said.

Impey said it was disappointing the players’ union had not consented to the deal.

“The game has to change, and Silver Lake’s capital injection would allow us to re-imagine rugby and invest in the areas of the community game that need it most,” he said.

“The players are a critical part of this journey. … We hope the NZRPA will realize the significance of the opportunity in front of us and will continue to work toward an agreement in coming weeks.” Silver Lake mostly invests in technology companies and has over $79 billion in assets under management. In 2019, it paid $500 million for a 10% stake in the City Football Group, which owns English Premier League Club Manchester City and other teams around the world.

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