Gregor Paul: The one question at heart of Silver Lake deal no-one can answer


Having gained the support of the provincial unions to sell a stake of its commercial revenue to Silver Lake, it seems all that stands between New Zealand Rugby and a cash injection of $387m is the professional players.

Win them over or break them down – and NZR will have their greenlight to sell off a chunk of the All Blacks in what is being presented as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to effectively flood the community game with the cash it desperately needs.

The continued stand-off between NZR and the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association is being portrayed as a squabble about money: a fight about how the maths stacks up, the intent of the buyer and who will get what and when.

Yet, what should have sat at the heart of the debate is something more fundamental. Ask the question who owns the All Blacks and no one can provide an effective answer and perhaps the real barrier to NZR getting this deal over the line should be them proving they are the rightful owners of what they are trying to sell.

NZR own the name, the trademark and the rights to the commercial assets those generate. The players own their images and intellectual property and so, it could be said these two groups are the owners of the All Blacks. Between them they own the component parts.

But put those two parts together and the All Blacks become something altogether different: the trademark and human meet and create what can only be described as a soul.

The All Blacks are a living, breathing entity with a rich, storied past that has shaped the social history of New Zealand. They are a team that continues to pervade into the fabric of this country – with even those with no love of or interest in rugby, increasingly holding an appreciation of the resilience, innovation, discipline and excellence which defines the All Blacks.

The All Blacks remain the country’s premier ambassadors, selling New Zealand to the world as a country where team trumps individual: where unity of purpose is valued and is strong enough to induce personal sacrifice for the greater good.

This is a team which is the embodiment of the nation’s best version of itself and everyone within the All Blacks is shaped by the values to which they are exposed and hence that’s why they are the people’s team.

The All Blacks are us, and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of teachers, volunteer coaches, parents, friends and family who have greatly influenced the lives of every All Black in history.

Every dollar the All Blacks have ever earned ultimately comes from the wallet of hard-working Kiwis – be it in the form of a match ticket, a replica jersey or a TV subscription.

It is the farms, freezing works and factories that are the true owners of the All Blacks and it is now time to question why the current NZR board believes it has the right to sell a piece of such treasured national heritage.

Every All Black who has ever worn the jersey never once said they owned it. They were passing through, hoping to add something to the legacy before passing it on to the next generation.

The players don’t see themselves as owners, only custodians and as much as every former and current All Black wants to see the community game receive the sort of funding it needs to get off its knees, it still must sit uneasily that the current NZR board has effectively declared itself the owners of the All Blacks and not the custodians.

Did Buck Shelford have his testicle rucked off so this board could sell a part of the All Blacks legacy and heritage to an Anglo-American fund manager?

Richie McCaw hobbled through an entire World Cup on a broken foot – a story that is New Zealand’s to tell but will become one from which Silver Lake will ultimately profit if this deal goes through.

And they will profit because what they are buying is the All Blacks legacy – using the sacrifice and excellence that is tied into the folklore of the jersey – to try to sell it to more people.

Everyone can see that for the All Blacks’ to continue writing their own extraordinary chapters in sporting history, the whole New Zealand rugby ecosystem needs a blast of hard cash.

But does the board have the right to take Silver Lake’s cash and in doing so, sell a piece of something future generations will most likely never get back?

Why not, instead, sell the All Blacks back to the people who can claim to own it already and let mum and dad investors and the everyday fans take a greater stake in something they will cherish in a way a US private equity house never could.

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