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Irish regulators clear CVC’s investment in Pro 14, subject to Six Nations condition

Glasgow Warriors play the Southern Kings in a Pro14 match (by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Ireland’s competition regulator has cleared CVC’s deal to invest in the Pro14 rugby competition, provided it alerts the competition authority if it goes onto acquire a stake in the Six Nations.

CVC Capital Partners agreed a deal in principle last year to acquire a 27-per-cent stake in Celtic Rugby DAC, the organiser of the Pro 14 Rugby Championship, owned equally by the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) and Welsh Rugby Union (WRU).

The Pro14 league started out as a Welsh-Scottish competition in 1999, but has grown to include teams from Ireland, and more recently Italy (in 2010) and South Africa (in 2017).

CVC’s investment is understood to be worth around £120m (€141m/$157m), which will be shared equally between three unions.

Celtic Rugby DAC is based in Ireland which is why the deal was investigated by the country’s competition regulator, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC). The regulator examined reports that CVC was also planning to acquire a 30-per-cent stake in the Six Nations.

The CCPC said: “During the course of this investigation, the CCPC became aware of media reports of a possible investment by CVC Funds in the Six Nations Championship which raised potential competition concerns regarding the likely competitive impact of the proposed transaction in the event of such investment.”

To address these concerns CVC has said it will voluntarily notify the CCPC if it, or any entity it backs, goes on to acquire control over the commercial activities of the Six Nations Championship, even if it does not meet the usual threshold to alert the regulator.

The Luxembourg-based private equity firm, which owned Formula 1 between 2006 and 2017, has acquired a series of rugby assets which give it an increasing say in the professional game. In 2018 it bought a 27-per-cent shareholding in English Premiership Rugby for around £200m.

CVC’s Pro14 deal has led to observers predicting that there could be a merger between the two competitions. This would pose something of a threat to European Professional Club Rugby, the organisers of two major European rugby union club tournaments: the European Rugby Champions Cup and the European Rugby Challenge Cup.

The thought is the European competitions would lose some relevance if a competition was established featuring all of the leading British and Irish teams.

CVC was reported to have made a £600m bid to acquire a minority stake in the Six Nations last year but so far a deal has failed to materialise.