Significantly, the NRL acknowledged that the opportunity is worth pursuing and has begun a process to examine the feasibility of private investment.
“I think there is a 12-month window to execute something that may never happen ever again,” Tripp told The Sun-Herald.
“This is not a cash grab – this is an opportunity to find other means to continue to grow revenue for the game. If we can do that through third-party investment, then that’s something we will look at in conjunction with the NRL with their support.
“We had a really productive call the other night and we’re going to run the process to ground.
“In terms of other codes heading down this path, Super Rugby is looking at it, Six Nations, Serie A, so naturally the question is why wouldn’t we want to at least have a look and run the process?
“That’s all I’ve asked of the NRL and they have very sensibly obliged and decided this is the right process to run and the right thing to do; just to take a look, nothing more, nothing less. We need to keep our eyes open. This is an opportunity that should be explored.”
Oakwell’s initial valuation of the NRL is $3 billion, meaning a stake of 20 per cent would cost about $600 million. However, the parties agree the $3 billion figure is on the high side and more work will be done to determine its true worth. Regardless, sources with knowledge of the negotiations suggest that investment interest could reach the $1 billion mark, depending on the size of the stake available.
Any deal would be contingent on the support of at least 12 of the 16 clubs, the NSWRL and QRL, as well as the ARL Commission.
NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo confirmed the talks with Oakwell and said the dialogue will continue as part of broader considerations to future proof rugby league.
“The game needs to consider all available options to grow,” Abdo said. “We need to think innovatively around our choices in terms of our strategy. Once we determine our strategy, we need to think about how to fund that growth.
“We wouldn’t be doing our job if we weren’t looking at all available options. These are long-term considerations, things we’d need to think about very carefully.
“We will take all available options to the commission for them to consider. We are fortunate we have people with experience in this area, particularly [ARLC commissioner] Gary Weiss and chairman Peter V’landys, who not only have a lot of experience but also contacts in this area.
“Gary, for example, has experience but also a lot of connections to providers of capital. That puts the game in a unique position. We also have experienced people at club level who can assist us with this thinking. These are things we do together with all the stakeholders.”
Oakwell informed the NRL earlier this year that it could facilitate a line of credit of more than $200 million should it be required to navigate the coronavirus outbreak. The governing body didn’t need to avail itself of the offer after renegotiating its broadcast agreements.
“The NRL will run the process and I’m happy to play the middle man in all of that, feed back the right level of information to the clubs so they are involved and engaged,” Tripp said.
“It’s very early days. There will be a high level of swapping of information and we will try to get to a point where we say, ‘Yes, let’s go’ or ‘No, let’s not’.
“[Oakwell] are very bullish about the NRL. It’s the premier sport in the country, huge TV audiences. They are firmly of the view that they will garner a whole lot of interest.
“This isn’t to bag the cash and move on, this is about finding the right strategic partner to help grow revenue so the NRL is in a stronger position in four or five years’ time.
“It’s all credit to Andrew and Peter to run the process parallel with the clubs.
“I’m really impressed with Andrew. I really hope he is the guy to steer the NRL through the next phase because I can’t think of a better person to lead them through it.
“I commend him and Peter for taking a proactive approach to this process.”
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.