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Six Nations member unions centralise autumn international TV rights

Peter O'Mahony of Ireland leads celebrations as the referee awards a penalty during the 2020 Six Nations match against Wales (by Warren Little/Getty Images)

The member unions of the Six Nations rugby union tournament have agreed to pool their media rights, including autumn internationals and other test matches, ahead of the anticipated investment from CVC Capital Partners.

Six Nations Rugby said that, from the 2021 season, all six unions and federations will be “unifying” the operations and media rights of the Women’s Six Nations, the under-20 Six Nations, respective autumn internationals and other international tests alongside the men’s Six Nations.

The six unions in England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales currently sell the domestic and international media rights to their home international tests (outside of the Six Nations) in individually-negotiated deals. The Pitch International agency has been particularly active in distributing the international rights to the matches on behalf of respective unions.

Six Nations Rugby said: “Formal engagements for media rights in the UK and Italy will commence shortly with other engagements involving other territories to follow in due course.”

Six Nations chief executive Ben Morel added: “By working closely together and ensuring a combined approach to our overall operations and harmonising of our media rights, the Six Nations will be able to accelerate the development of the game.

“In doing so, we will remain true to our heritage while looking to attract and reach new audiences. This has been one of our key strategic priorities for some time and we are very pleased to make this announcement.”

CVC’s is understood to favour the bundling of the commercial rights of the six competing unions, aggregating the rights to the autumn and summer internationals with the Six Nations to provide a more compelling media product.

The centralisation of the rights to the autumn tests was also a part of the radical World Rugby proposal to create a global Nations Championship. The project, which was supported by the Infront agency, failed to get off the ground due to concerns about relegation at some of the existing Six Nations teams.

The announcement comes after it was reported last week that CVC’s attempts to acquire a stake in the Six Nations were being held up by a disagreement over the championship’s media rights. The private equity company started an exclusive period of negotiation with Six Nations Rugby last September with a view to acquiring a 15-per-cent stake in the championship for a reported £300m (€353.8m/$389.3m).

As a condition of the deal, CVC is said to want to take control of the tournament’s commercial arm and the right to arrange its next broadcasting deal. Free-to-air broadcasters ITV and BBC share the domestic rights to the Six Nations in the current cycle (2016 to 2021) paying around £50m a year. At the time of the deal, the Six Nations Committee preferred the wider coverage offered by the broadcasters ahead of a larger offer from pay-television broadcaster Sky.

CVC 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, and last year it agreed a deal to acquire 27-per-cent share in Celtic Rugby DAC, the organiser of Pro 14 Rugby.