The South African Rugby Union (SA Rugby) is in negotiations with Ackerley Sports Group (ASG), a recently created investment firm, over the creation of a commercial rights vehicle.
ASG – launched in 2023 – is looking to strike a deal with SA Rugby that would see the Seattle-based firm invest in South African rugby at all levels. The stake has been reported by media as being worth $75 million in total, and as being set for completion in May.
SA Rugby has said that under the terms of the proposed deal – which is still subject to further negotiation and then final approval – ASG would invest in a commercial rights corporation (CRC). That joint venture – of which ASG would reportedly hold 20% – would “hold all current and future revenue-generating assets” of SA Rugby and of the world champion men’s national team, the Springboks.
The CRC would be responsible for all aspects of growing SA Rugby’s commercial profile, including sponsorships, broadcast partnerships, media content, marketing, and match-day revenue. It would cover all SA Rugby national teams, as well as that body’s partnership in both international competitions and domestic South African rugby union properties.
The CRC would still be majority-owned by SA Rugby, but ASG would take a significant minority interest.
SA Rugby has said it will use the increased commercial proceeds to fund amateur, school, and community rugby, as well as administration and governance in that space.
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ASG is an offshoot of the wider Ackerley Partners organization (established in 2002), which already has stakes in multiple professional sports franchises in Seattle, USA – the Seattle SuperSonics, the Seattle Storm, the Seattle Seadogs, the Seattle Seawolves, and Seattle Kraken. Last November, the firm also took a minority stake in English Premier League soccer side Leeds United.
Ted Ackerley, co-founder at ASG, has said: “This investment in the Springboks [who won last year’s Rugby World Cup] represents a unique opportunity for us to match the on-field success of the team with the resources needed to establish and sustain the franchise as a global powerhouse. We will bring decades of experience and passion for excellence with us.”
The partnership has been struck with the location of the 2031 Rugby World Cup in mind – with that event taking place in the US, where ASG is based, both parties have said that "having an American strategic partner guiding the Springboks into this arena will provide the resources to continue their dominance both on the pitch and off.”
In early 2022, one of rugby union’s other Southern Hemisphere heavyweights, New Zealand, took a similar step, when New Zealand Rugby (NZR) created the NZR Commercial arm and sold off a minority stake to the Silver Lake investment group.
That firm now holds a 7.5% stake in NZR Commercial. NZR retains the remaining 92.5% equity in the entity.