Plans to sell 20% stake in the Springboks to American-based firm

 ·4 Mar 2024

SA Rugby, which oversees the reigning world champion Springboks team, expects to double sponsorship revenue by the 2027 World Cup on the back of a planned private equity deal that values its commercial rights at $375 million (approx. R7.1 billion).

The organization, following the Springboks’ back-to-back World Cup victories, including last year’s triumph in France, is seeking approval at a general council meeting on 30 May to sell a 20% stake of the rights to Seattle-based private equity firm Ackerley Sports Group, according to SA Rugby Managing Director Rian Oberholzer.

“If we only had to worry about the Springbok balance sheet,” a deal wouldn’t be necessary, Oberholzer said by email in response to a Bloomberg News query.

“But we’re a national federation as well, required to support and promote rugby across the country with many mouths to feed.”

The prospective deal is part of a growing trend among national federations of the world’s most successful rugby teams to raise funds from private equity. Money managers are increasingly turning to sports leagues and federations rather than teams to diversify their investment risk.

SA Rugby targets sponsorship revenue of R800 million in 2027, about double last year’s level, according to Oberholzer.

All Blacks

In 2022, Silver Lake Management agreed to a 7.5% stake in the commercial activities of New Zealand Rugby for NZ$262.5 million (approx. R3 billion).

New Zealand’s All Blacks lost to the Springboks in the World Cup final last year. Rugby Australia borrowed A$80 million (approx. R990 million) from Pacific Equity Partners last year.

Ackerley was selected by Six Nations Rugby competitions investor CVC Capital Partners in December, according to Oberholzer.

SA Rugby plans a number of information sessions on the deal for its general council members members before 30 May, he said.

Under the agreement with Ackerley, South African rugby unions will retain sole responsibility for all sporting matters, such as team management, and SA Rugby will maintain a majority stake in the company it is planning to set up to hold the rights, according to Oberholzer.

Seattle-based Ackerley Sports Group, formed last year by brothers Christopher and Ted Ackerley of Ackerley Partners LLC, invests in the sports sector with a focus on leagues, teams, venues, media, technology and development.

The Ackerley family has owned stakes in several sports franchises, including Seattle SuperSonics and Seattle Storm in basketball, the Seattle Seadogs in soccer and the Seattle Kraken hockey team.

Last year, a private holding company for the family bought a minority stake in England’s Leeds United Football Club.

The Springboks have won the World Cup a record four times, gaining global recognition as the team, once an emblem of apartheid, has been held up as an example of successful transformation.

Read: Mood shifts for one of South Africa’s most important sectors

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