Exclusive: Six Nations board takes step closer to securing game-changing £500m investment

Gavin Mairs
The Telegraph
Wales were this year's Six Nations winners - Getty Images Europe
Wales were this year's Six Nations winners - Getty Images Europe

The Six Nations board has taken a step closer to securing a historic investment, expected to be more than £500 million, by signalling its intent to enter into exclusive negotiations with the private equity firm CVC over a minority stake in the championship, The Daily Telegraph can reveal.

It is understood that the Six Nations board made its potentially “game-changing” decision at a meeting in Dublin on Wednesday. After considering offers from interested parties, including sports agency IMG, the Six Nations board agreed that opening discussions to sell a minority share of around 15 per cent to CVC was its preferred option.

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The six member unions are 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.

The fact that CVC is already in advanced negotiations for a £120 million stake in the Pro14 league, which is owned by the Scottish, Irish, Welsh unions, is also regarded as significant.

“The Six Nations agreed a preferred direction to enter into an exclusive window of negotiation subject to the rapid board ratification of each union,” said a Six Nations source.

<span>CVC submitted its original bid in March ahead of World Rugby’s crunch talks </span> <span>Credit: AFP </span>
CVC submitted its original bid in March ahead of World Rugby’s crunch talks Credit: AFP

“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.”

If the board is given the green light to proceed with the negotiations, likely to take a couple of months, the consequences are likely to be game-changing, if a deal can be struck. Each union is likely to receive around £100 million from the deal at a time when even the Rugby Football Union, the world’s financial powerhouse, has been forced into brutal cuts because of tough economic challenges.

A multi-million pound investment would also accentuate the financial gap between the northern and southern hemispheres and likely to increase concerns in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, about player drain to European clubs.

Interestingly, 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 the Nations Championship.

CVC, which submitted its original bid in March ahead of World Rugby’s crunch talks over its failed Nations Championship proposal, has already secured a 27 per cent stake in Premiership Rugby this year in a deal worth around £200 million and an investment in the Six Nations would give the private equity firm a major sphere of influence in the European game.

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.

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.

It is not yet clear what World Rugby will make of another investment by CVC into the second-biggest international tournament outside of the World Cup.

One of the major planks of their Nations Championship proposal, which promised to raise around £6 billion for a 12-year deal for a new annual 12-team tournament, was that it would protect the game from outside investors.

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