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CVC to ‘reshape rugby’ after rights-holder deals

England face Wales during NatWest Six Nations on February 10, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

European private equity company CVC Capital Partners is close to buying stakes in the Six Nations and Pro14 rugby competitions, as part of wider plans to ‘reshape’ the sport’s global competition structure, the Financial Times has reported.

CVC is moving closer to deals first reported last year to pay £300m ($389m/€358m) for a 14-per-cent stake in the Six Nations national team tournament and £120m for a 27-per-cent stake in the Pro14 club tournament.

The firm is reported to also be in talks about tie-ups with world governing body World Rugby and national governing bodies New Zealand Rugby and South Africa Rugby. It is also exploring plans: to bundle media rights for rugby competitions around the world into a single sales package; to launch an OTT service; for streaming rights deals with digital players such as Amazon; and to launch a ‘Club World Cup’ tournament.

Brett Gosper, chief executive of World Rugby, told the FT: “There’s an understanding that CVC are an investor in the sport and a supporter of important member unions of ours. Therefore, it’s best that we work together with them where possible rather than be in a situation that we’re not in dialogue.”

CVC already has one major ownership position in European rugby, a 27-per-cent stake in Premiership Rugby, the body that oversees the top rugby union division in England, acquired in December 2018.

Sources told the Financial Times that CVC’s talks with SA Rugby were advanced and included discussions about adding another South African side to Pro14. They dismissed reports recently that South Africa would join the Six Nations.

CVC’s Six Nations deal has been on the cards since last year. The company was reported to have initially wanted a 30-per-cent stake for more than £600m, and to have beaten offers from other parties including the IMG agency. In September it entered an exclusive negotiation period with Six Nations. Earlier this month, it was reported the two sides were working through challenging talks about media rights. This was followed by an agreement by the Six Nations’ members to pool the rights to their annual Autumn internationals games.

The Pro14 acquisition was also first reported last summer. Last month, Irish regulators cleared the acquisition of the Ireland-based Pro14 management company Celtic Rugby DAC. The company is owned by the Irish Rugby Football Union, Scottish Rugby Union and Welsh Rugby Union. The competition is contested by teams from these unions plus teams from Italy and South Africa. The BBC reported in November that each of the three governing bodies are to 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.

Last year, another plan to reshape the Six Nations and Rugby Championship into an annual global league, with backing from sports marketing group Wanda and its subsidiary Infront, fell apart after some nations baulked at the prospect of promotion and relegation.