THE SIX NATIONS BOARD has signalled its intent to enter into exclusive negotiations with the private equity firm CVC, to sell a 15 per cent stake in the championship for a figure expected to be more than £500 million, reported The Daily Telegraph this [Friday] morning.
After considering offers from interested parties, including sports agency IMG, it is understood that the Six Nations Board made its potentially game-changing decision to open discussions with CVC as a preferred bidder at a meeting in Dublin on Wednesday.
The six member unions are now considering the proposal and are expected to give their response “within days”. Given that the Six Nations board includes the chief executives of each of the member unions of England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy, sources say it does not expect any significant opposition. However, the complex negotiations over the deal could take a number of months.
CVC is also in advanced negotiations for a £120 million stake in the Pro14 league, which is owned by the Scottish, Irish, Welsh unions. The equity firm recently secured a 27 per cent stake in Premiership Rugby in a deal worth around £200 million and an investment in the Six Nations would make it a major sphere of influence in the European game.
“The Six Nations agreed a preferred direction to enter into an exclusive window of negotiation subject to the rapid board ratification of each union,” a Six Nations source told The Telegraph.
“While we will not make any further comments on on-going confidential discussions, the Six Nations reaffirm that the need for investment in the game is at the heart of its decision making process.”
A north-south divide
If a deal is struck, each union is likely to receive around £100 million, accentuating the financial gap between the northern and southern hemispheres, which will inevitably exacerbate concerns in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa about player drain to European clubs.
The Daily Telegraph added that contrary to recent reports, it is understood there are no plans to review revenue share of the autumn Tests with the southern hemisphere following the collapse of World Rugby’s Nations Championship proposal last month.
“Six Nations sources insist, however, that any deal with CVC would not affect its control of the championship, or the autumn Tests, the rights of which are to be aggregated as part of its “Project Light” plan to increase the value of future broadcasting deals,” explained The Daily Telegraph.
“There are still many hurdles to overcome, even if the boards of the unions agree to press ahead with CVC, given the complexity of the negotiations and it is still possible that the Six Nations could yet return to one of the other offers or decide to proceed its own.
“What is clear, however, is that the future of the Six Nations on terrestrial television is not at risk, even if a significant number of autumn Tests are likely to remain on pay TV as part of Project Light.
“The contrasting viewing figures of the women’s football World Cup, which was shown on terrestrial television, in contrast to the cricket World Cup on Sky Sports, has only served to underscore the Six Nations’ long-held belief that its championship is best shown on free-to-air channels.”
The Six Nations Board last month rejected a proposal from World Rugby to create a Nations Championship which promised to raise around £6 billion for a 12-year deal for a new annual 12-team tournament, with one of its major aims being to protect the game from outside investors.
The Scottish Rugby Union ordered a governance review to be conducted by former Scotland internationalist and oil magnate Sir Bill Gammell at the start of June, citing the potential of significant third party investment as a key driving factor in re-examining “all of Scottish Rugby’s corporate governance and business structures to ensure that they are fit for purpose to take account of the interests of all existing and future stakeholders in a modern rugby environment”.