Rugby Australia turns to private equity after $27m loss and threat of return to amateurism


The $45.7m reduction in revenue was the key factor behind the huge loss, which was somewhat offset by $31.2m in drastic cost-cutting measures. Staff costs were reduced by $9.9m (down 46%), a $7.7m reduction in player costs (down 45%), an $8.1m reduction in Member Union funding (down 28%), and other costs were reduced by $5.5m.

Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan said the organisation was “shaken to its core” by the impact of the global pandemic. And the size of the financial loss led to serious conversations about becoming amateur.

“We were very nervous,” McLennan said on Thursday afternoon after the AGM. “When I came on board in June/July, had we not been able to get cost out of the business and get some certainty into some of our revenue numbers, we openly talked about the game potentially becoming amateur.

“It was a real possibility. It wasn’t just idle talk. But we got through it and there’s light at the end of the tunnel. We knew it was going to be brutal, so it’s not really a surprise. I’m proud of the fact that the team here has kept the game alive and professional.”

New Zealand Rugby approved a historic private equity deal at their AGM on Thursday, with a 12.5% stake to be sold to US equity firm Silver Lake for $NZ387.5m ($361m).

McLennan indicated Rugby Australia would follow suit. “We have absolute alignment,” he said. “I can’t see us giving more than 15% away. It will be between 10 to 15%. Probably 12.5%. In a perfect world you wouldn’t have to do it. There’s an extra stakeholder we’ll have to deal with.

“But I don’t fear it. The more diverse range of skill sets we get around the table is a good thing. Rugby deserves to make a lot of money which we can reinvest back into the community game.”

McLennan feels Australian rugby has weathered the worst part of the financial storm, with a string of international series set to pump much-needed money into the game. RA is confident the proposed three-Test series against France during the middle of the year will go ahead.