New Zealand Rugby hope broadcasting deals will help keep players at home
New Zealand Rugby is weeks away from signing lucrative broadcasting deals which it hopes will give it more cash to retain players tempted by overseas contracts.
The organisation managed to keep its books in the black for a third year running, with a profit of $373,000 for the 2014 financial year.
However, NZR's substantial cash reserves dropped $1 million to $62.6m as it prepaid some spending for the 2015 year.
NZR chief executive Steve Tew said broadcast contracts for the 2016-2020 period were weeks away from being finalised.
Once the "significant uplift" in revenue was confirmed, there would be more cash available to pay players, invest in the game and shore up the war chest, he said.
Player contracts are up for negotiation this year.
Promising All Blacks fullback Charles Piutau dropped a bombshell last month by accepting a two-year $2m contract to play rugby in Northern Ireland.
Tew said there was no question the decision was disappointing.
"We've made a pretty big investment in him as a young player, and thought he had a big future playing for the All Blacks and potentially as an Olympian."
However, in a competitive global market, he said it was inevitable that some athletes would choose to chase the big money.
"To be realistic we will never stop completely the flight of talent," said Tew. "There will be others- there's no question about that."
Backline utility Colin Slade is also being tempted by a French club deal reportedly worth more than $720,000 a year.
Tew confirmed Slade was one fo the players at risk, and said the NZR was working hard to keep him in New Zealand.
He said the organisation should be able to make a compelling offer to players, beyond the allure of the black jersey.
The 14 ITM Cup unions made a combined profit of $1.2m, down from $3.3m.
Four unions slipped back into the red, compared to 2013 when all of them managed to turn a profit.
Provincial unions have struggled with poor game attendance and increased costs, with regular payments from NZR the only thing keeping some afloat in recent years.
"We take the view that if you've got the money in the bank, and you need to keep investing in the game, from year to year you might make a decision to run a small deficit year," said Tew. "You can't keep doing it, obviously."
Tew said NZR had budgeted for a loss this year, which was off to a bad start with the Wellington sevens tournament losing a "a big hunk of cash".
Sponsorship makes up about a third of the organisation's revenue, which rose following the signing of new agreements with Jockey and MyRepublic in 2014.
Tew said several other commercial agreements were in the pipeline, with more details to emerge later in the year.
Total revenue rose 3 per cent to $120.8m, while expenses rose 5 per cent to $120.2m.
Further financial information on the state of the union's finances will be released at its annual general meeting later this month.