Craig Fenton, an executive at internet giant Google, has been hired by governing body New Zealand Rugby (NZR) to lead its commercial division.

Fenton succeeds recently departed Richard Thomas as chief executive of the governing body’s commercial arm – NZR Commercial – and will take up the role in January 2024.

NZRC was formed after NZR secured a NZ$465 million ($325 million) investment from US private equity firm Silver Lake, with the deal giving Silver Lake a stake of up to 8.58% in NZRC. Thomas had only been placed at the helm in August after working as the chief commercial officer of NZ Rugby.

NARC controls the governing body’s commercial assets such as gate revenue, broadcast rights revenue, and sponsorships agreements.

Under the new role, Fneton will relocate to New Zealand from his current home in London, UK, at the end of the year and is tasked with leading NZ Rugby’s commercial ambitions as it looks to recover its finances following the Covid-19 pandemic.

In April, NZR said it had lost NZ$47.2 million in 2022, despite generating record revenue of NZ$270.8 million. In terms of the different income sectors, NZ$102 million came in through broadcast rights, while sponsorship and licensing were responsible for NZ$113 million.

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Both those sectors saw substantial increases from the equivalent 2021 figures. Matchday revenue, which took a serious hit in 2020 and 2021 as the Covid-19 pandemic took a toll on sporting attendance, effectively doubled, reaching NZ$28.3 million last year.

Fenton said: “The teams in Bblack represent the top of our professional sport, of any team in any sport, and elite performance like this is sustained by the foundations on which it is built.

“Growing the commercial value of NZ Rugby through an engaged and expanding global fanbase is vital to supporting our current players and nourishing the grassroots that represent our future.

“I look forward to working with stakeholders across all levels of the game, honoring our legacy, whilst moving forward in a modern digital world, growing with mana. I am deeply honored to join the NZ Rugby whānau.”

Fenton will join NZR after spending seven years at Google. Based in London, he worked as the internet giant’s managing director of strategy and operations from February 2017.

Prior to that, he spent almost 17 years at global consultancy firm Accenture where he was sales lead for Europe, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East.

NARC chair Ian Narev said of Fenton: “What set him apart from a strong pool of candidates following a thorough global search was his passion for the opportunity. Craig is excited about NZRC's bold strategy, in terms of both global growth and contribution to the local community.

“He wants to build on the capability in the team. And he understands the need to listen carefully, learn and engage constructively with a broad range of stakeholders. We are thrilled he has agreed to join us.”

In April, NZR launched a 10-year plan to transform women’s rugby union, pledging to invest NZ$21 million ($13.2 million) into “women’s rugby initiatives” this year alone.