Distressed debt giants Bain Capital Credit and Oaktree Capital had previously passed on the deal, putting it in the too-hard basket with Rugby Australia facing a massive uphill battle to turn its fading fortunes around. Private equity backing away from the deal wasn’t a great signal either, nor the Wallabies’ disastrous performance in France. Sources said local credit investment firm amicaa had entered play but has since left the field.
As the column has reported, Rugby Australia and its adviser Jefferies had been in advanced talks to raise up to $250 million in equity funding to help pay down its debt and secure a legacy fund for the future. Silver Lake, CVC Capital Partners and the Forrest family’s Tattarang took a good look.
Rugby Australia largely gets its revenue from broadcast deals, match attendance and sponsorship rather than memberships. As such, the COVID-19 pandemic wrought devastation on the body, which declared a $27.1 million loss in 2020 and slashed player salaries. 2021 was a better year with Rugby Australia recording an operating loss of $4.5 million. Revenue from the Wallabies Tests helped it produce its first profit since the pandemic, announcing an $8.2 million surplus for the 2022 financial year.
To right the ship, Rugby Australia is looking to deploy a massive rebuilding strategy to transform the sport including investing in grassroots talent, professional development and centralising administration. The debt is understood to go a long way to kick-start that process, including signing on a new coach after controversial Wallabies coach Eddie Jones resigned.
It’s unclear how the ousting of McLennan in a late-night board meeting on Sunday will impact the debt negotiations. Sources close to the process described it as highly competitive.