Rugby Australia woos private equity as losses balloon

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Rugby Australia chairperson Hamish McLennan.
Rugby Australia chairperson Hamish McLennan.
Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Rugby Australia (RA) has revealed its losses almost tripled in 2020 as revenues fell off a cliff, with loans from World Rugby keeping the organisation afloat as it seeks private equity investment.

RA said the coronavirus pandemic contributed to a Aus$27.1 million (US$21.1 million) deficit last year, up from a Aus$9.5 million loss in 2019, as revenues slumped by Aus$45.7 million.

"Australian Rugby has been through some challenging years recently, but nothing could have prepared us for 2020," chairperson Hamish McLennan said in RA's annual report published late on Thursday.

"The organisation was shaken to its core. There were genuine fears that the financial losses may prove too big to bear."

Coronavirus disrupted the Test and Super Rugby schedule, forcing RA to sack staff, cut player payments and squeeze funding to community rugby.

It was already struggling after a hefty payment to ex-Wallaby Israel Folau after his sacking for homophobic comments, a downgraded broadcast deal and the loss of long-time sponsor Qantas.

RA revealed it received a Aus$13.8 million cash advance from World Rugby in 2020, then another Aus$4.5 million in March this year.

McLennan conceded RA's balance sheet was "weak" and the organisation faced significant challenges.

"This only highlights the importance of external investment as we look to alternate sources of funding to reinvest back into the game," he added.

McLennan said RA was preparing to follow New Zealand Rugby's lead and seek private equity investment to shore up the game's finances.

NZR on Thursday approved plans to sell a 12.5 percent stake in its commercial rights, including the All Blacks, to US investor Silver Lake, although the players' union opposes the move and can veto the deal.

McLennan said last month that Silver Lake could be in the mix to partner with RA, although it's unlikely the Americans would pay anywhere near the US$280 million they are offering for a slice of the All Blacks.

Other possibilities include CVC Capital Partners - which holds stakes in England's Premiership, the PRO14 and the Six Nations - and Australian billionaire Andrew 'Twiggy' Forrest, a keen rugby fan who bankrolls the Perth-based Western Force.

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