Too soon to say whether CVC deal has been good for Scottish Rugby, says John McGuigan

Some free-to-air coverage of the Six Nations must be part of the conversation in any future broadcast deal

John McGuigan says the jury is still out on whether rugby made the right decision in jumping into bed with CVC. Image: © Craig Watson -
John McGuigan says the jury is still out on whether rugby made the right decision in jumping into bed with CVC. Image: © Craig Watson -

JOHN MCGUIGAN, the Chair of Scottish Rugby, says it is too soon to say whether the decision to sell significant chunks of the commercial rights for the Six Nations and the United Rugby Championship to CVC private equity house was a good move for Scottish Rugby (and the other unions involved).

The deals, which were finalised during and just after the Covid period, provided struggling governing bodies with crucial cash injections, and were presented as a way of harnessing experience, expertise and networks to present a united front for the negotiation of broadcast and advertising packages, which will theoretically push up revenue going forward.

However, no game-changing deals have emerged so far, and the evidence from published accounts is that the Unions are not only receiving a smaller slice of the same cake but also having to cover escalating costs for dealing with their private equity partners (Scottish Rugby stumped up an extra £1.3m last year).

John McGuigan prioritises raising revenue – ahead of cutting costs

John McGuigan interview part one: “The world around us is changing so we as an organisation will change with it”

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“I think it is too early to say if the CVC deal has been a success or not for rugby,” said McGuigan, during Tuesday’s media briefing at Murrayfield, before reasoning that the partnership can only work if both parties benefit.

“I think CVC would say it has been pretty challenging for them, given the amount of money they have invested, to see how they get their return,” he explained. “From that perspective, on both sides there is a question: Has rugby been good for CVC? It is probably too early to say. Has CVC been good for rugby? It is probably still too early to say.

“The TV rights [next round of deals] and the opportunity presented by the Nations Cup [with a revamp of the global calendar], I think, is the time to answer that.”

Perhaps the most visible development since CVC got involved is the ‘Full Contact’ documentary series covering the 2023 Six Nations, which went out on Netflix earlier this year. It has been acknowledged that there were challenges in terms of the level of access some teams were prepared to grant the programme makers, and the general sense is that the series did not get under the skin of the sport and therefore capture the imagination in the same way as Formula One’s hugely successful ‘Drive to Survive’ has since first airing in 2019.

“CVC did the F1 thing and have realised dealing with rugby is not dealing with F1,” McGuigan added. “You don’t have a Bernie Ecclestone figure who says: ‘Leave it with me and I’ll sort it’ – you’ve got multiple nations all coming at it from a different perspective.”

Rugby’s stuffiness when it comes to marketing innovation is clearly a major bugbear for McGuigan, whose business background is as a senior executive in charge of customer-facing functions at multinational firms such as Telefonica and the Phoenix Group.

“The story that’s always told is how long it has taken to get players’ names on the backs of shirts. You think that decision would be made on day one – well, it was still being made on day 655!

“If your kid is standing beside you in the stadium and says: ‘Who’s Finn Russell?’ and you go: ‘It’s the wee guy standing beside the big guy’, because you actually can’t see his name, that’s not about providing access to our sport.

“I think CVC look at things like that and think as a sport we need to wake up to what it takes in order to be available and interesting to a non-traditional-rugby audience.

“Whilst you still want to cater to a traditional rugby audience, you’ve also got to think about the discretionary opportunity you’ve got with other people who might just dip in and out. How do you make it exciting and easy to understand without losing the heart of the sport?

“So, I think we’re too early to say if CVC has been a good thing or a bad thing. I think the bigger question is: Can you see a way of rugby surviving without external support? I think definitely not. Whether it’s CVC or somebody else, that’s going to be part of the make-up of rugby going forward.”



One of the widest felt anxieties about an increasingly fragmented and competitive broadcast market is the prospect of rugby disappearing off free-to-air television.

TNT – who already have the rights to the Investec Champions Cup and the partially CVC owned English Premiership – are understood to be interested in striking a two-year deal with Six Nations Rugby to succeed Amazon Prime Video as the central broadcaster for this year’s Autumn Test Series, with an announcement expected imminently.

Meanwhile, the UK Government recently rejected calls to add the Six Nations to the ‘crown jewels’ [Group A] list of sports events which must be offered for live free-to-air broadcast, leaving open the prospect that the championship could end up on pay TV when the next deal is brokered for 2026 onwards. The Six Nations is currently a Group B event, meaning there is only provision for highlights to be made available to free-to-air broadcasters.

McGuigan acknowledged that it is a difficult balancing act between giving access to as many people as possible and not turning away investment the sport needs to survive in its current form.

“Every government in terms of the Six Nations – I can certainly think of two or three – would have that very high on their agenda about free access,” he said. “We’d be alongside that, so it would be a central part of the discussion about, yes you want the best commercial deal, but you also want access, so how do you create the right balance?

“For the moment, every nation is working with their government about how we create that balance.

“What you need from the government, who has a heavy influence over the free-to-air piece, is being realistic about what that means. You can’t just demand it as a principle and expect us to take a huge cut in our ability to drive revenue.

“We’ve got to find a point where it is equitable to give free access, but we don’t damage our revenue opportunity to a greater extent. It’s going to be finding the equilibrium. From our position, we would definitely want free-to-air as an integral part of any future deal.”



And, of course, it is no longer simply a case of one broadcaster showing a match in full while one other broadcaster perhaps purchases the rights to a highlights package to be shown at a later date. Managing exposure and the commercial potential on a large number of digital platforms is a complex and often fraught undertaking.

“The average viewing time of somebody under 25 is something like a minute and a half, so it’s about how you grow up to that,” said McGuigan.

“The question then is, is it reasonable for every nation to try to get up to speed with data and digital and the evolution of how people watch, or should you try and do it once through the Six Nations with an entity that gathers all that information and says: ‘We’ll do it on your behalf’.

“Because doing it once and getting the right calibre of people trying to do it is better than six different folk trying to do it. So, that’s the discussion we’re having at the moment.”

It’s a fair point – but whether the best vehicle to drive this strategy is a private equity firm with the sole purpose of providing a financial return on investment to its shareholders, whilst having no vested interest future-proofing the sport, is a different matter.

Champions Cup: Glasgow’s last-eight hopes are dashed at the death by Harlequins

About David Barnes 3956 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. One of the fascinating things about the business world is the hagiography of CEOs and business gurus. Mr Dodson certainly falls into that space. No one suggests He is a Bill Gates or Tim Cook but the parallels are uncanny. Of course CEOs impact on an organisation for good and ill. But it how they lead and the culture they create that makes for lasting value.

    He had the good fortune to be at the top of an organisation going through a growth phase. It coincided with exceptionally weak corporate governance and a set of NEDs who facilitated him. Contract extension after the Russellgate fiasco – waved through. The acceleration of salary to become the highest paid CEO in World Rugby for the smallest tier 1 nation. Using aggressive tactics to get your own way. I could go on.

    Failing to build for the future has what’s brought his demise. The weeping sore of U20 rugby. Super6 doing little but spending £1.5M per year of money it turns out we didn’t have. An inability to recognise the position of clubs further undermined him. It didn’t have to be that way but Mr Dodson thought he knew best.

    Good CEOs know when it’s time to leave. As a famous exec coach says “what got you here won’t get you there”. Mr Dodson may have been what was required after the austerity years of McKay. That shtick lost its way many years ago.

    • Dom, I don’t agree with all of your post, but do agree with much of it.

      Dodson’s style became a problem. It was probably necessary early on, just to shift things along, such was the inertia McKie created. Inertia, cuts and more cuts on the way. We were heading for oblivion, something the then new president recognised and fixed (one I McLauglan) by forst engineering anew chair, then helped McKie out of the door. And he brought in Moir Lockhead, pretty good businessman.

      Dodson grew our revenues. Its easy to say anyone could. Maybe so, maybe not, but he did. But where I agree most is that all Chief Execs have a shelf life in a job, and the best know its time to move in befre they reah the end of that shelf. Its a shame Mr Dodson did not. His time was up a few seasons back

      • In what way did Dodson grow the revenues? Putting up seat prices and getting merchandise up to unrealistic retail prices isn’t difficult all it needs are core supporters spending their valuable cash, not the most difficult method initially, although it doesn’t last.
        How much did Dodson earn again? IF he did anything to help revenue why are we Millions in debt.

      • George – He happened to be in the seat when we landed the BT sponsorship. A commendable sponsorship deal and credit to those in Murrayfield who were involved in it.

        The question is what role did MD play? I’m sure he met the BT folks regularly. But doing the deal? Crossing the ts and dotting the i’s? To my CEO point above, if he was doing these things he is crashing his CEO role and we should have closed the marketing and sponsorship office. Devoting time and energy to this may well have been important but hardly in CEO territory. What did he have to miss to deal with this? Perhaps devoting more attention to the state of Murrayfield might have been a better use of his time

      • Dom Ward at 7.12am – I think you are correct and that again brings to mind the question what were we paying him those big Bucks for? One of the aspects of selling sponsorship and perimeter advertising is that the relative ease of selling the the National Stadium especially in conjunction of the SRU teams Glasgow and Edinburgh, it’s a bit more difficult selling major companies into the other clubs in the Borders and if we are talking sales and marketing is it a central control from Murrayfield or do Edinburgh and Glasgow have separate staff? If so why, the logical aspect is to add the 2 Pro clubs into a package and develop advertising for the other clubs assisting with revenue to the Grassroots.

  2. I am not certain who Iain Milne was responding to with his comment at 8.48pm – to quote –
    “Totally agree. I never agreed with everything he did but I do remember what Murrayfield and the National team were like before he took over”.
    Meaning what exactly?
    We all can recall failures and poor results in the past and I am sure we can all remember Scott Johnson or Matt Williams the BS merchants BUT where is the evidence that Dodson had anything to do with the recent success on the pitch? Or anywhere else for that matter.
    Where is the consideration that he was pocketing more than a recent CEO of the RFU by some £250,000+? Where is the evidence that he was worth more than the combined salaries of the Welsh and Irish CEO’s?
    What legacy does he leave? A clumsy effort to postpone a World Cup game that took even more money out of SRU coffers, his man management ‘my way or the highway’ that attracted Judicial condemnation.
    It’s easy to say things are better on the pitch but it is difficult if not impossible to attribute those are down to Dodson in any realistic way.
    And please don’t suggest Super Six was an innovation that aided our present results or avoid observing the lack of pathway for our Junior age related teams or their failure to keep up with their competitors.
    I wait with baited breath to hear from any Dodson apologist that can indicate where he has really benefitted Scottish Rugby – value for money! SRU down £10m or probably more and then look at Ireland who made a £5.9m profit last year.
    If you could buy Dodson at his ‘value’ and sell him for what He thinks he is worth: you would make a lot of money.

    • You may not like the way Dodson got us that world cup game against Japan Haley, but the fact is – He DID get us that game against Japan. A small sum out the coffers was worth it and we had an amazing spectacle and the opportunity we rightly deserved to try and progress.

      Let us not forget that another team got denied their opportunity through their more passive approach during that WC for the same event.

      There is also a serious question of if World Rugby were right to fine us for that – personally i thought it was a load of BS.

      • You have one small aspect of your comment that I agree with, I don’t like the way Dodson dealt with the WC final Pool game. However the inaccuracy in your comment creeps in after that, Dodson did not ‘get us the game’ it was Game on or Cancellation, Dodson was attempting to gain either postponement or moved to another venue.
        As regard your suggestion that the Fine imposed was an insignificant £70,000 well yes I suppose against the amount of money Dodson was paid it is rather small change, but £70k could have been used to better results than World Rugby pointing out that perhaps he should change his attitude or engage a thought process before he ‘shoots’ his mouth off.
        I’m amazed you are unable to identify Dodson’s standard operating procedure, ‘I’m right and you are wrong, therefor do as I say’. That standard procedure clearly evident in the way he dealt with Russell and was condemned in Court, this may have worked inside Murrayfield, but cut little Ice with World Rugby authority, he is after all one of a small clique of individuals able to start an argument in an empty room, perhaps you view that as a positive side to his character others do not.
        There is finally a personal request, my Family name is Haley and if you choose to address me without the courtesy of the accepted way of addressing a Family name and precede with Mr. an opportunity you deny others on this Forum ‘Dear Mr. AngryGala2’ as, as if I may remind you, that at least I put my name to my comments unlike yourself, so please try and show a little respect for others on the Forum even if you don’t agree with them, and even if it is probably Faux.

      • Another picture you painted as I have just remembered was ‘others were denied the opportunity’ as their games were cancelled and points shared, those games England v France, both already qualified and NZ v Italy, I doubt if the much improved Italian team of today would carry the Bookmakers favour, they certainly wouldn’t have in 2019, just slightly disingenuous, if I may suggest.

    • The IRFU posted a profit of c5.9M euros in 2021/22, before exceptional income. Last year a loss of just under 1M euros. In 2020/21 a loss of c10m euros

      Dodson’s salary was far too high for comparable roles. Ditto bonuses. That is down to poor non exec board members, you should question who appointed them and then approved their continuation. Clue -it wasn’t Dodson

      • I doubt if there is anyone, myself included that hasn’t been fooled to
        some degree by a BS merchant, and Dodson fitted that description.
        No doubt in my mind that having observed Williams and Johnson getting
        away with it Dodson went in big, sold the SRU another line of BS, and I
        agree dreadful decisions, however it still leaves Dodson as a loud mouth
        blustering braggard as identified in a Scottish Court.
        How anyone supports any aspect of his tenure by addressing the faults of
        those that were taken in by him is a total mystery – but their faults do
        not delete Dodsons.

    • @George Haley
      you say ”
      In what way did Dodson grow the revenues? Putting up seat prices and getting merchandise up to unrealistic retail prices isn’t difficult2

      may be so. However the previosu regime did not manage it, not the SRU run by gifted amateurs beofre that. Have a wee keek at the turnover in 2011 and earlier, and look at it now. Growth. And @Dom – its way more than the one off (over 5 yrs IIRC) £20m from BT

  3. Those of us who have worked in the PE finance sector know and understand that there is little or no altruism in it; the main / only beneficiaries are the investors and the PE company / excecutives themselves…

    In the case of a desperate, cash-strapped organisation like the SRU some 3 or 4 years ago (remember when the auditors were refusing to sign off the accounts on a “going concern” basis, the Union’s bankers were decling to extend further credit, day-to-day costs were going unpaid?) before the SG came to the rescue with a £20 million “Covid bailout” package as CVC “investments” were being concluded in both the 6N & Celtic Rugby competitions, etc. the implications of giving up a significant top-slice of annual revenues to CVC are now coming home to roost.

    No more surpluses, little in the kitty to fund infrastructural developments or rugby initiatives – while the Murrayfield headcount remains, in relative terms, enormous…. And, all the while the SRU continues to pour extraordinary amounts of money – £25.7 million in the previous FY – into its 2 under-performing NSQ-stuffed Proteams, losing some £16 million p.a. between them, much more than even the highest loss-making Gallagher Premiership club in the equivalent period (Saracens, who lost a mere £5.3 million).

    The future certainly isn’t rosy if a so-called financial “saviour” is creaming the top off your hard-earned revenues, you are committed to a policy over over-spending for zero return and you have already frittered away the windfall bung right down the plughole!

  4. The most telling aspect in the McGuigan comment is surely that there isn’t a ‘ringing’ endorsement. Why would any well run organisation look toward ‘Venture Capital’ support, especially as CVC in particular do not have the best reputation for increasing anything other than their own profit, I believe I am correct in the assertion that one of their primary demands is they take their ‘Cut’ of any profit before anybody else.
    Did the SRU have to ‘chip in’ with the other Unions or Organisations: probably, however where did the supposed benefits in financial terms go, as alluded to in another ‘Post’ by Robster will Dodson offer up just what was the amazing ‘Transformation’ he stated would come the SRU’s way?
    Knowing Dodson for what he is I rather suspect if he had to give an answer it would be “ I didn’t actually say the Transformation would be for the good” that’s what you get from Snake Oil Salesman.
    Then there is the overall Debt at the SRU – with CVC money and Covid support how did we end up £10m in the Red, coincidentally not far short of the amount Dodson cost us in salary and fines. If memory serves, wasn’t there a reticence to sign off the accounts? Has there been a bit of ‘Enron-ism’ along the line?
    Over recent seasons Murrayfield always appeared to be at capacity, it makes you wonder: it isn’t as if it is a cheap day out, I can recall considering attending an International with our Son and when I worked out the costs good match day tickets would have cost more than the travel, albeit from central Europe.
    How many are in the Marketing and Sales Department, or the Administration? Just how difficult is it to sell Murrayfield, it is the National Stadium and as they own Glasgow and Edinburgh you could sell in International and local packages in a Group deal.
    So many questions and so few answers, plenty of marketing/sales chat from Dodson and cohorts however.

  5. I suspect it will be too soon to see if the deal is good for Scottish rugby for around the next ten years.

    • Absolute nonsense comment. Petty politics seems more important to you briever. What exactly is wrong with having a successful state schooled female on the board?

        • What on earth was the relevance of you raising her membership of the SRL Board in the context of this article?

      • My issue with her is not the ridiculous “Tory” comment – it’s more the impact that such an appointment could have on the stakeholders we are trying to reach. After a fairly well-paid sinecure in Holyrood, she emerged with a decent amount of publicity and no victories where it counts – ideal for the current Scotland/ Enbra/ Glasgow set-up, you might say. She has, however, earned a seat in the HoL and a nickname of note. She also has contacts though, I guess…

        Anyway, to get it back on topic, it sounds like the new guy is slowly working through the trough and will form an independent opinion on her and others. Despite having to give up my Season Pass due to the price doubling, on balance I’m liking the new broom so far – I just hope we can turn it around.

      • Well, the likeable though as yet unproven new SRL chairman certainly has a lengthy “to do” list. Mr McGuigan clearly cannot get through it all at once, on his own, or without the support of others, especially those immediate colleagues around him at the boardroom table – which may answer David’s point….

        Just a pity that “briever” (7 April, 11.14AM) failed to remember where he was posting or to switch on his thinking gear, before deflecting attention from his not unreasonable question.

        Another issue of continuing concern is the apparent blurring of lines and indiscriminate overlapping between the various SR “Boards” (SRL, Custodians, Rugby) and their respective real-life responsibilities. Without doubt, a product of the current messily labyrinthine, fundamentally-flawed, hurriedly-introduced (on the back of the SCOG process by… ‘er, you know…) the current over-complicated governance structure is one obstacle that Chairman McGuigan could well do without slowing his endeavours & progress in key matters right now.

  6. If only there were some pre IOU’s examples of what happens to organisations that get involved in private equity set ups….As was pointed out at the time this deal was done.

    The question becomes why is it that the Unions need all this cash? Could it be that expenditure is way in excess of income? More and more cash injections, sorry “investment” will only mask that. The PE guys aren’t there for the good of the sport. They are there to make money.

    Of course covid had a big part in accelerating the cash crunch. This arrangement would have happened at some point as professional rugby is a voracious beast that consumes vast sums of money.

    • A very interesting comment from
      Alan was his observation of the “ stuffiness” in our game. This permeates it’s way all through our game. Murrayfield is now a wonderful experience for those who go. It’s time we revolutionised our game from youth/ club rugby upwards to meet the demands of a very different audience, on and off the pitch, since my days.

      • Maybe if your in the hospitality echelons but for the plebs who might need to use a toilet it’s a mess of a place which badly needs refurbishment. Unfortunately your pal Dodson prioritised lining his pockets. Regards CVC it’s openly admitted within F1 that CVC was a calamitous mistake which they are still trying to recover from. Both Edinburgh Glasgow have empty seats now every week and in Glasgow case Scotstoun used to sell out all ost every week. A sport that struggles for participation numbers should not even entertain the idea of putting the sport behind a paywall. If we cannot balance the books then stop signing players outwith the development system. 2 out 3 pro players come from outwith Scotland which is to any with a functioning central nervous system totally unsustainable. Connacht have won as many tournaments this decade as Glasgow Edinburgh and Scotland combined in 24 years and annually produce more pro players than the whole of Scotland. It’s Galway FFS not Leinster. We don’t solve problems but refusing to accept they exist. The sport is dying here and some of the sycophants seem quite happy with that.

      • Rugby fan, never been at the hospitality for 20 years so wouldn’t know. I listened to the many traveling supporters that go and they love Murrayfield more than any of the other 6 Nations ground and appreciate the efforts made by the SRU. You can’t please everyone I suppose

  7. McGuigan needs to stop covering up for the sh*tstorm left by Dodson and his cronies. Open the books to see where all the money has been wasted and who have had their snouts in the trough. Transparency over spending is essential.

    • I think once Dodgiesons bullion wagon rolls out of town officially…like so many other despots before him the stories and people he cowed into silence will come forth… then it will get very interesting indeed. They will try to hush it up and smooth it out, that’s their job… but the truth always bubbles to the surface !

  8. Yet Dodson said at the time (taken from one of your other fantastic articles David, when the CVC deal was brokered)

    “Would I call it transformational? I would say so,” said Scottish Rugby Chief Executive Mark Dodson. “The deal we did with PRO14, and if the deal with Six Nations comes through, they will be absolutely transformational for the union. That’s why we have to be very careful about how the money is spent. It has to be spent on things that will future proof the game.”

    The deal was clearly brokered at a time when the rugby unions were desperate for money.

    We’ve spent all the money and what an earth has it transformed for us???

    I like McGuigan but he has inherited an absolute shambles of a mess wholly created by Dodson and his cabal of yes people more interested in lining their own pockets. Absolute disgrace yet he is able to ride off into the sunset with his pockets stuffed full of cash and leaving behind a total clusterf*k.

    • Very unfair comments on Mr Dodson who was a fine ceo and will be sadly missed. Whoever takes over from him will have a hard act to follow.

      • Serious Questions have to asked of Keith ‘Dodson’ Wallace in all of this. To many snouts in the trough.

      • You are Mr Dodson and I claim my £5! (Which of course I won’t get because you like running away with all the money).

      • Well MisterC, enlighten us all, just what has Dodson done for Scottish Rugby other than line his pockets and cost the SRU Fines [World Rugby] and Condemnation from a Scottish Judge?
        I have to wonder what the letter ‘C’ stands for: Cuckoo [as in SRU Nest] Cuckoo [as in Doo-Lally Tap] Collaborator or Confused: Dodson!! The Regional Manager Small-Adds Guardian Group newspaper that was ‘Not wanted on Voyage’ when a Multi-National took them over, an individual ‘Named’ by an MP for wasting Tax Payers money on a ‘Local Tv. project, someone who has ‘milked’ Scottish Rugby for a totally unrealistic remuneration package, an individual who instead of keeping his mouth closed [for a change] complained about the weather in Japan that managed to get the SRU fined, a CEO criticised by a member of the Judiciary for his unwarranted dismissal towards Russell regarded as outrageous, and that’s just some of the things we know about, goodness only knows what went on behind closed doors.
        Dodson was and will remain a BS merchant, goodness only knows why you offer the individual any Credit, something he has clearly failed to achieve in financial terms for the Scottish Rugby.

      • Totally agree. I never agreed with everything he did but I do remember what Murrayfield and the National team were like before he took over.

  9. Not CVC !! Not a good history in some countries ! Not a long term proposition by any means.
    Is there Not any of the whisky companies with a longer term view of sport & rugby ?
    CVC won’t help with any grass roots rugby…..not their image !!
    Think again SRU !!

  10. Yet Dodson said at the time (taken from one of your other fantastic articles David, when the CVC deal was brokered)

    “Would I call it transformational? I would say so,” said Scottish Rugby Chief Executive Mark Dodson. “The deal we did with PRO14, and if the deal with Six Nations comes through, they will be absolutely transformational for the union. That’s why we have to be very careful about how the money is spent. It has to be spent on things that will future proof the game.”The deal was clearly brokered at a time when the rugby unions were desperate for money.’

    We’ve spent all the money and what an earth has it transformed for us???

    I like McGuigan but he has inherited an absolute shambles of a mess wholly created by Dodson and his cabal of yes people more interested in lining their own pockets. Absolute disgrace yet he is able to ride off into the sunset with his pockets stuffed full of cash and leaving behind a total clusterf*k.


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