New Zealand Rugby back in the black after four years with $5.5m profit

New Zealand Rugby is back in the black, announcing a $5.5 million net profit for the 2021 financial year at its annual general meeting on Thursday despite the challenges of Covid-19.

It is NZ Rugby’s first profit since 2017.

The annual meeting did not include the members’ vote on the $200m private equity proposal from Silver Lake after provincial unions asked for more time to assess some key details.

Chief executive Mark Robinson was hopeful a deal could be struck by early June.

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“We are simply taking our time as a collective group of 26 unions to determine exactly what that means,” Manawatū Rugby Union chairperson Tim Myers said.

“We don’t see it so much as a delay. It’s a huge decision for us and we feel spending a bit more time making that decision is entirely appropriate.”

Robinson said he respected the provincial unions’ request for more time to consider the latest proposal but urged the game to “get on with the opportunity sitting in front of us”.

While the $5.5m profit was a positive result following a difficult past few years, Robinson said the significant investment the Silver Lake deal would bring would be a game-changer for the national game.

The All Blacks had to play their Rugby Championship tests in Australia during 2021.

Chris Hyde/Getty Images

The All Blacks had to play their Rugby Championship tests in Australia during 2021.

“They continue to be patient but as we look into the Northern Hemisphere around rugby and the way sports and sports businesses are transforming, we are losing momentum and opportunity the longer we take,” Robinson said.

“We believe there’s an opportunity to invest and it’s a key moment in time to do that in a wide range of areas that we believe can make a big difference to the game.”

The positive financial result came despite the postponement of the Women’s Rugby World Cup, border restrictions that forced the All Blacks’ Rugby Championship tests to be relocated to Australia and Covid-19 lockdowns that disrupted the Farah Palmer Cup and NPC.

“We should reflect on 2021 with a sense of pride as we emerge from a tough period on sound financial footing, and with some key building blocks in place as we move into a crucial period for the game,” chairperson Stewart Mitchell said.

“Our people have worked incredibly hard to weather the Covid storm and their ability to adapt and be agile as we look to reimagine rugby has been inspiring.”

NZ Rugby’s revenue recovered to post-Covid levels by $51m to $189m in 2021, driven mainly by increases in broadcasting revenue and sponsorship and licensing.

Expenses rose by $26m to $183m, mainly due to more rugby being played than in 2020 with “Teams in Black” expenses up $18m to $57m and competitions up $10m to $81m, a reflection of the variability of the areas where matches and competitions were played.

Rising expenses did not negatively impact investment in game development funding to provincial unions, which rose to $31m, and investment in women and girls’ rugby, which increased to $11m.

Although cash reserves were maintained at $65m, including a $15m advance from World Rugby on RWC2023 funding, they were well below NZ Rugby’s policy target of 50 percent of operating expenses at just 36 percent.

NZ Rugby is set to double the amount of money it puts into women's and girls' rugby.

William Booth/Getty Images

NZ Rugby is set to double the amount of money it puts into women’s and girls’ rugby.

NZ Rugby’s investment in women’s and girls’ rugby was $11m in 2021 and is forecasted to be $27m in 2022, including $10m directly to RWC2021. NZ Rugby has set up the Super Rugby Aupiki competition and offered the first fully professional Black Ferns contracts.

Investment in women’s rugby will continue in 2022 with the creation of seven roles nationally dedicated to women’s rugby, four of which are focused on community rugby and developing playing, refereeing, and coaching opportunities.

“We’ve just kicked Super Rugby Aupiki and we’d love to see that flourish and grow as well, and having been in Australia last week with our colleagues over there we see great opportunity to develop and replicate what is happening with Super Rugby Pacific in the men’s game,” Robinson said.

“We’ve got lofty ambitions there. We want to make a real difference and we see opportunities that can benefit at a whole number of levels from amateur to professional.”

All Blacks great Sir Bryan Williams has been elected a life member of New Zealand Rugby.

Jason Oxenham/Stuff

All Blacks great Sir Bryan Williams has been elected a life member of New Zealand Rugby.

Meanwhile, former All Black Sir Bryan Williams was elected as a life member after being nominated by the Auckland Rugby Union and receiving unanimous approval from members.

“I was named to be an All Black at 19 years-old and it seems like yesterday, and then suddenly you’re 71 and a life member of the union, it’s a bit scary,” Williams said.

“I’m a life member of my club Ponsonby, Auckland Rugby and New Zealand Barbarians and now NZ Rugby so it’s a full house.”

Former Tasman Rugby Union chairperson Wayne Young was elected to the board after being nominated by Tasman, heading off Whanganui Rugby Union nomination Richard Dellabarca, in replacing Shaun Nixon on the nine-person board.

Young joins recent appointments of Dame Patsy Reddy and Rowena Davenport as the three new board members.

Mitchell said NZ Rugby remained committed to reaching the quota of 40 per cent female representation set by Sport NZ.

“We now have three female board members which is 33% and we have the opportunity with an emerging director to add to those numbers as well so we’re moving and it’s happening,” he said.

Veteran administrator Max Spence was elected as NZ Rugby president, replacing former All Black Bill Osborne, who had served as president since 2019 and finished his tenure.

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