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Explainer: What does the CVC/Six Nations deal mean for rugby?


IRFU chief executive Philip Browne

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne

What’s going on?

The long-mooted deal to sell a 14pc stake in the Six Nations to CVC has been announced, subject to approval.

What’s CVC?

CVC is a private equity firm with a strong interest in sport. Previously owners of Formula One, it has claimed a 27pc stake in the English Premiership and the PRO14 previously. CVC also has a major stake in Serie A and women’s football in England.

Right, so is this good news?

Short term, definitely. The IRFU will pocket €56m over the next five years as part of the deal and, given it lost €32m last year and is projecting losses of €29m this year as a result of the continued absence of crowds due to the pandemic, it’s a welcome cash injection. All six unions need the money. The English RFU will pocket €110m, the Welsh union €59m and the Scots €52m with France and Italy sharing €146m between them.

What do CVC want?

A private equity firm wants to make money and CVC clearly sees untapped commercial potential in the sport. They now have access to 14pc of the tournament’s revenues, so their goal will be to grow that pie so their slice gets bigger.

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Will they start rewriting the rules?

No. The rugby unions will retain control of the rugby side of the operation, but they’re counting on CVC’s commercial nous and buying power to increase revenues.

Sounds great?

Well, not necessarily. The fear is that the price of CVC’s involvement will be rugby coming off free-to-air television. IRFU chief executive Philip Browne rejected that it was an inevitability that the sport would disappear behind a paywall, but it seems likely that the next round of Six Nations rights, which are currently being negotiated, will see some games from the spring schedule sold off to quench CVC and the union’s thirst for revenue.

Is that really that bad?

The beauty of this tournament is that it is beamed into every living room, which generates enormous interest from casual supporters who build a huge loyalty to the Irish national team and that is what attracts big sponsors to the brand. Rugby’s TV rights market is already fractured and expensive, so the addition of an Amazon Prime to the equation (they’re the front-runners) will only hit supporters harder and the sport will cut itself off from a wide audience.

Under a recent change, the rights for the Autumn Internationals will also be sold as part of the Six Nations package.

Can the Government step in?

Attempts to put the Six Nations on the protected list have failed previously and the IRFU will be dead-set against it if Minister Catherine Martin tries to limit its access to selling the rights.

What’s the upside?

Well, the fact that CVC has a stake in the PRO14 and the Premiership may raise the prospect of a one-stop shop for rugby on television which is sorely needed. Currently, fans must shell out for BT Sports, eir Sport, Rugby Pass and Sky if they want to follow everything.

It’s an expensive business.

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