SA Rugby partially in the market but Boks not for sale

Talks with potential American equity partner ongoing but deal not done

14 February 2024 - 17:21
By Liam Del Carme
SA Rugby president Mark Alexander stressed no deal has been concluded with a potential equity partner.
Image: Ashley Vlotman (Gallo Images) SA Rugby president Mark Alexander stressed no deal has been concluded with a potential equity partner.

The Springboks are not for sale and SA Rugby can only conclude a deal with an equity partner with the blessing of its 14 provinces, the organisation's president Mark Alexander said on Wednesday.

There has been much disquiet in local rugby circles since Seattle-based Ackerley Sports Group (ASG) announced they were set to partner with the Springboks.

SA Rugby, however, had to allay fears, in particular those with franchise licences, that the deal has not been done and negotiations were still ongoing.

ASG's statement last week created the impression an agreement was done and dusted.

We are excited to partner with a legendary global sports franchise such as the Springboks,” said ASG co-founder Ted Ackerley.

“Our collaboration will establish a worldwide expansion of the most iconic brand in rugby.”

The group suggested they will invest in a commercial rights corporation —formed in collaboration with SA Rugby — and share in current and future revenue generating assets of SA Rugby.

It has since been reported that the group would purchase a 20% stake in the venture said to be worth $75m (R1.43bn).

Alexander said the size of the stake is yet to be determined as it depends on many factors.

In the wake of ASG's announcement, local franchises demanded answers about a deal they did not believe was as advanced. SA Rugby has served notice of a meeting in which they will seek to allay their members' concerns.

Despite ASG jumping the gun, they appear to be the preferred suitors.

A partnership with a private equity firm offers not just an immediate financial boost, but also provides the expertise, networks and resources necessary to enhance the commercial value of South African rugby,” said SA Rugby in responding to media enquiries.

“This collaboration can position SA Rugby, the Springboks and, eventually, other teams for greater global prominence.”

The deal is far from concluded with Alexander suggesting an announcement is only due in May.

Our team was mandated to pursue further discussion,” said SA Rugby. “The members of SA Rugby have agreed on the primary conditions. However, substantial effort is ongoing behind the scenes to finalise the specifics. As the finer points are critical, no final approval will be granted until our members have been thoroughly briefed and a mandate secured. This process can only be agreed upon once our 14 members have approved it.”

They were equally firm the Springboks are not for sale.

“The Springboks and all national squads will retain their existing management and ownership models. As national institutions, the Springboks and SA Rugby are not transferable to private equity. This strategy is about harnessing our commercial rights in partnership with an organisation, creating a separate entity dedicated to elevating our commercial profile.”

ASG is an expansion of family-owned investment firm Ackerley Partners, who have stakes in several Seattle-based sporting franchises, including MLR’s Seattle Seawolves. It recently purchased a minority stake in English football team Leeds United.