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CVC lines up £120m Pro14 investment deal

Oli Kibble of Glasgow Warriors scores his team's fourth try during the Pro14 match against Southern Kings (by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Private equity firm CVC Capital Partners is set to increase its interest in European rugby union after agreeing a deal in principle to acquire a 27-per-cent stake in cross-border league the Pro14.

The agreement with the Pro14’s operating body, Celtic Rugby DAC, will reportedly be worth almost £120m (€140.6m/$155.5m) to the league, which is co-owned by the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), Scottish Rugby and the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU).

The BBC reports that each of the three governing bodies will receive around £35m, with the four teams that compete from Italy (Benetton and Zebre) and South Africa (Cheetahs and Southern Kings) also set to benefit.

CVC will handle commercialisation of the Pro14 through the deal, taking over this role from Celtic Rugby DAC, which said in a statement: “Celtic Rugby DAC and its shareholders can confirm a request has been filed to the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission for Merger and Acquisition clearance by CVC Capital Partners.

“The request has been made in relation to a potential transaction involving Celtic Rugby DAC and CVC Capital Partners. Both parties are involved in advanced discussions and until those talks have been finalised there will be no further comment.”

The agreement was also discussed at the WRU’s annual general meeting, which was held in Cardiff yesterday (Sunday). In September, CVC entered into an exclusive period of negotiations to acquire a minority stake in national team tournament the Six Nations. In December 2018, it sealed a deal for a 27-per-cent stake in Premiership Rugby, the body that oversees the top rugby union division in England.

“Private equity have invested into the Gallagher Premiership in England, which has obviously created a lot of interest,” WRU chairman Gareth Davies said following Sunday’s AGM, according to the Wales Online website. “There’s almost a natural progression to look at the Pro14, I suppose.

“Discussions are ongoing and it looks as though that could be moving forward. That would see an inflow of money into Ireland, Scotland and Wales, which is obviously well received. Hopefully there will be some extra funds flowing into our coffers. The money will come into the Union first of all. In England, it’s just gone directly to the clubs, because they were the ones negotiating.”

Davies added: “We are not selling part of the Unions, we are selling a competition, the commercial arm of the competition. The game itself, the rugby element, will still be controlled by the Unions and the professional teams.

“It’s an interesting departure and development. Rugby isn’t always good at working together, in terms of the best results, because there are lots of areas of self-interest. So it probably needs an external partner to come in and knock heads together in many respects and to more commercialise what is probably regarded as an under-exploited sport in terms of commercialism.”

CVC Capital Partners earlier this month was also part of a major $600m funding deal for Bruin Sports Capital.