Six Nations chief executive Ben Morel denies that the completion of a £365million agreement with CVC Capital Partners means the end of the Championship being broadcast on free-to-air channels.
The private equity firm has acquired a 14.3 per cent stake in the tournament – subject to regulatory approval – equating to a 1/7th share with the six unions holding a share each.
The long-term deal also includes the autumn internationals and the women’s and under-20s competitions and expands CVC’s interests in rugby union after deals were struck with the Gallagher Premiership and Guinness PRO14.
Six Nations Rugby and CVC Announce Long-Term Strategic Partnership https://t.co/Su2XBmKolw
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 11, 2021
A crucial element of the arrangement is that “the six unions will retain sole responsibility for all sporting matters as well as majority control of commercial decisions” – and Morel insists this includes TV rights.
The existing deal with ITV and BBC ends after the current Championship and it is feared that CVC will seek a return on investment through a move to pay TV channels, with negotiations concluding over the coming weeks.
But Morel told the PA news agency: “There is no correlation. CVC are interested in long-term value creation.
“Any decision over free-to-air, moving to pay… those decisions will remain in the power of the unions.
“The unions will have to make that thoughtful, long-term decision about what is in the best interests of the game.
“Ultimately financing is important because it funds the community and amateur game. It’s about finding that right balance. It wasn’t easy before and it’s not easy now.”
Underlining the value of ITV and BBC are the vast numbers tuning in to watch this year’s Championship, with England’s calamitous defeat by Scotland on the opening weekend peaking at 8.7million. The figures have been strong across the opening three rounds.
“The audiences have been phenomenal. The special moments the Six Nations bring go beyond sport really. We recognise the responsibility we have,” Morel said.
“The long-term interests of the game are what will guide us and CVC are aligned with that.”
The £365m is distributed on a sliding scale according to audience share, with the Rugby Football Union securing £95m down to Italy’s portion, thought to be in the region of £36m.
Italy’s stake ends any hope of promotion and relegation into the Six Nations being introduced in the foreseeable future as the Azzurri desperately seek to end their 30-match losing run.
Morel sees revamped autumn and July schedules that will come into effect in 2024 as the best windows for exposing less established teams to Test action.
“This doesn’t mean the Six Nations will always remain as they are. There’s no gamechanger because of the deal either way,” said Morel on the topic of relegation.
“I do believe there’s an immediate way to create competitive matches for those emerging nations to get better and showcase themselves. That’s the opportunity for growth.”
WRU CEO issues a ringing endorsement of the new long-term strategic partnership struck between Six Nations Rugby Ltd & CVC Capital Partners:This is a pivotal moment in the history of the international game in Wales – Phillips📰 https://t.co/kN65Ez5QjY 🗞️https://t.co/zaTLAd5rzV pic.twitter.com/mN8JeFoYi9
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) March 11, 2021
Morel believes the women’s game will feel the benefits of the CVC deal through an improved Six Nations and greater funding for the grass roots, while new innovations are also on the cards across all competitions.
“People want to see what they want to see, at the time they want to see it on the device of their choice. Investment into the technology that’s available to us will be key,” he said.
“Also, smart ball technology, understanding the movements of the players during the match to better understand the game for hardcore fans.
“These are just a few examples, but at the same time we want to keep the tradition and values of the Six Nations.”