Cash-strapped Rugby Australia sign $80m debt deal to help give game second life ahead of Lions, World Cups


For years Rugby Australia has been going into battle with their hands tied behind their back. Now, they’ll have a fighter’s chance after securing finances to borrow up to $80 million over the next five years.

After considering following New Zealand Rugby’s $NZ200m path of going down a private equity path, RA announced the significant debt deal with Pacific Equity Partners on Friday afternoon.

The deal comes just at the right time after a week from hell, which started with World Cup-winning Wallaby Daniel Herbert taking over from Hamish McLennan as RA chair and continued on Thursday with their main Super Rugby partner Harvey Norman opting not to renew the three-year partnership.

But after two years of trumpeting the start of the golden decade of rugby, the debt deal will at least provide RA some immediate certainty and help them get their finances in order ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour in 2025 and home World Cups in 2027 (men) and 2029 (women). Hosting the Lions and men’s World Cup is expected to bring in a combined $200.

RA wants to use the injection of capital to pump more resources into the grassroots of the game, their pathways and high-performance portfolios, including the Wallabies and Wallaroos head coaching roles, before the two events so they can reap the benefits by the time they arrive.

“Given the visibility we have on revenues from the British and Irish Lions and World Cups, it became clear that debt capital was going to be the best solution for rugby,” Waugh said in a statement.

Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh has announced a new $80m debt deal. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

Although Waugh said taking the debt deal was the right time for now, he didn’t rule out exploring a private equity deal in the future.

The decision to go down the debt path always looked likely, with new RA chief executive Phil Waugh, who came from a banking background, often spruiking the benefits of not selling the game’s assets at a low rate.

In a soft financial market and RA currently having a low $29m broadcast deal, with no absolute certainty of a significant uplift in 2026 either, Waugh believed it was the smartest path to go down.

“This does not compromise RA’s options down the road, which could include private equity investment,” Waugh added.

“This approach ensures that we retain 100 per cent of the commercial revenues from the game, that all capital raised will go into the game, and that RA controls its own direction during this next period of growth and development.

“We plan to invest in the critical areas needed to grow the game – we have identified high-performance integration, Women’s Rugby, Community and Pathways as critical areas to focus on, and I believe investment in these areas will give us the opportunity to capitalise on the exciting major events on the horizon.”

The new debt facility comes on the back of RA’s existing $40m loan with Ares Management that it took out in May 2021, during the pandemic, and on which it is paying an interest rate of 11 per cent.

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