Gregor Paul: The ‘nonsense’ exposed by All Blacks’ Silver Lake deal

OPINION:

If the figures Silver Lake are forecasting about the potential reach of the All Blacks’ offshore audience are anywhere near accurate then a few questions need to be asked about why the national team remains off limits to Government investment.

In the last 15-20 years New Zealand Rugby has tried and failed several times to engage the government in discussion about how they could financially support the national game beyond underwriting hosting costs for major tournaments.

It has been a hard no each time – the message unambiguous that Governments don’t see tax-payer’s money and the All Blacks as a good mix.

The view out of the Beehive has been that neither the economics nor the intangibles have stacked up to make rugby a good investment.

Yet, the same administrations who have baulked at the optics of funding a highly paid rugby team, have pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the America’s Cup – much of which was speculative, invested in the hope it would see Team New Zealand be victorious and win future hosting rights.

It was high-risk investing – betting big on the back of what was, in truth, an ambitious and slightly dubious forecast that the event would be worth in the region of $1bn to New Zealand if it was held in Auckland.

Somehow, though, one sport is mocked for trying to argue it is a valid recipient of Government funding while the other can stick its hand out, grab the cheque and literally sail away in a shockingly expensive boat that will be obsolete by the time its crew have learned how to race it.

It makes little to no sense when the respective economic, intangible benefits and social inclusion cases of rugby and America’s Cup are put under scrutiny.

The latter has pulled off one of the great illusions – passing itself off as a sport for the people and a flag for the nation and sucked everyone in New Zealand into believing that the rest of the world was transfixed by the recent series.

The economic basis to support future Government investment in the America’s Cup might be there, but it is hard to know because the accounting and reporting to justify the taxpayer’s share tends to be vague – built more on a jingoistic, emotional rationale rather than a hard cents and dollars foundation.

What has underpinned tax-payer funding is that successive governments have been seduced by this less tangible idea that the America’s Cup is an unrivalled opportunity to showcase the country to a significant offshore TV audience.

The America’s Cup has been deemed to be an unprecedented means to promote New Zealand’s ingenuity and resilience to a global audience and then leverage ill-defined economic benefits on the back of it.

Put the All Blacks under the same scrutiny and the case for the Government to invest is nowhere near as vague.

Rugby, which despite having seen its participation numbers come under pressure, continues to be the sport that pervades most deeply into the country’s psyche and shape the social history of endless generations.

The All Blacks play six or seven domestic tests a year, with each injecting anything between $10m to $30m a time into the local economy.

When it comes to global TV audience, the All Blacks are a big ticket item. In a different league entirely to the America’s Cup.

If Silver Lake are right, then the All Blacks could win an audience in the tens of millions whenever they play a test, bringing up the harder question to answer whether they can showcase and promote the country as effectively as Team New Zealand?

That seems the easiest question of all to answer. The All Blacks, with such a strong Pasifika and Maori presence, are a team that better reflects the cultural make-up of the country.

What sort of positive impact did Sonny Bill Williams make when he gave his World Cup medal away in 2015 or when TJ Perenara publicly congratulated the Springboks in 2019 at the World Rugby awards?

There is also, critically, opportunity for women in rugby and money coming into the All Blacks does at least have a chance to filter its way to the Black Ferns and support the growth of the female game.

Probably, the best thing for rugby in this country is to take Silver Lake’s money.

But it’s a nonsense to dismiss the Government as a potential partner and say there is no means to justify tax-payer investment in the All Blacks.

The case for the Government to invest in the All Blacks is far stronger than it is to invest in the America’s Cup.

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