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Disagreement over media rights stalls CVC’s £300m Six Nations deal

CVC’s attempts to acquire a stake in the Six Nations are reportedly being held up by a disagreement over the rugby 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 championships for a reported £300m (€353.8m/$389.3m).

As a condition of the deal, CVC wants to take control of the tournament’s commercial arm and the right to arrange its next broadcasting deal, according to The Guardian.

Free-to-air broadcasters ITV and BBC share the domestic rights to the Six Nations in the current cycle (2016 to 2021) paying roughly £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.

The tender process for the next contract is due to start later this month and CVC believes broadcast rights hold the key to generating a greater return on its £300m investment. For this reason, it is claimed that CVC would be reluctant to give the Six Nations Committee the power to veto any new rights deal.

Six Nations chief executive Ben Morel has said he is in favour of retaining a say over the tournament’s commercial rights but that he expects a deal to be agreed anyway.

He told The Guardian: “We have not set a deadline. But I would expect that we will reach a decision within a matter of weeks rather than months.

“The talks have been constructive but negotiations like this take time because there are a number of complicated issues to deal with. We are always looking at ways of attracting investment, but it is important that we retain control.”

Ahead of the last domestic media deal there was thought to have been some discord among the different unions that make up the Six Nations Committee. At the time, SportBusiness Media reported the Welsh Rugby Union was strongly in favour of maintaining free-to-air coverage. Scottish Rugby, however, is said to have wanted the most lucrative deal possible.

The Six Nations sits in Group B of the UK government’s listed sporting events which can be aired live on subscription television provided that secondary coverage (highlights and/or delayed broadcast) is offered to the free-to-air broadcasters.

A potential compromise to the impasse in the current negotiations would be for the Six Nations to adopt a hybrid model in which one match per round is shown on pay television.

CVC’s wider objective is to bundle the commercial rights to of the six competing unions together and aggregate the rights to the autumn internationals with the Six Nations to provide a more compelling media product.

The plan appears to chime with Morel’s own ambitions. In an interview with SportBusiness ahead of last year’s championships he said: “I think that we can do a better job at presenting the opportunity to our broadcast partners, as well as to our fans. There are too many games overlapping and I am a strong believer in simplicity of narrative and product definition.

“There are great storylines between the Autumn Internationals and the Six Nations that we can actually present a better product to the marketplace.”

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.