New Zealand Rugby to vote on sale of All Blacks' stake to US firm

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) is poised to vote on the sale of a multi-million dollar stake in its legendary All Blacks franchise to a US private equity firm, opening a new front in the battle over big money in sport.

New Zealand rugby's governing body is expected to approve the US$280 million (S$371.4m) offer from California-based Silver Lake investments at an annual general meeting in Wellington today.

But the proposal faces a potential veto from players, some of whom believe the soul of rugby's most storied national team is being sold.

The vote comes just a week after the European Super League fiasco, when Europe's top football clubs shelved a US-backed breakaway competition within days, after an outcry from fans and officials.

The All Blacks' worldwide recognition - they have won three World Cups and have a win rate of almost 80 per cent - has made the team a valued asset, attracting Silver Lake, which wants a 12.5 per cent stake in NZR's commercial rights, and the right to negotiate merchandise and broadcast deals worldwide.

The deal would value NZR's commercial assets at a whopping US$2.2 billion.

NZR chief executive Mark Robinson said the deal would be "transformational" for rugby in New Zealand, and for club sides that are perennially short of cash, despite the All Blacks' on-field success.

But critics point to the European Super League debacle as evidence that mega-rich foreign owners often chase cash and care little about a sport's tradition and culture.

Former NZR chief executive David Moffett told Radio NZ: "You will see the All Blacks playing more games, and perhaps more meaningless games, and that just devalues the greatest brand in rugby."

Kiwi rugby supporters have been largely silent about the proposal. The New Zealand Rugby Players' Association, which can veto the plan, has raised concerns about appropriation of Maori and Pasifika culture, including the haka.

Mediation between the players and NZR has so far failed, meaning Silver Lake's proposal is far from a done deal. -AFP