CVC and Pro14 finally get investment deal over the line
The investment deal between CVC Capital Partners, the private equity group, and European domestic rugby union's Pro14 competition, has now been concluded.
CVC, which has a history of sporting involvement, is acquiring a 28-per-cent stake in Pro14 from Celtic Rugby DAC, the body responsible for running the competition, in a deal reported to be worth £120 million ($146 million).
Today's agreement brings an end to a saga that stretches back well over a year, with the first reports linking CVC, which is no stranger to investing in top-level rugby, to an investment in Pro14 back in February 2019..
As part of the deal, the FIR, the Italian rugby union federation, will become a member of Celtic Rugby DAC, and will therefore receive a part of the invested funds. The body already includes the Irish, Scottish and Welsh unions.
According to the Pro14, some of the investment will be held centrally “for the Board to invest in further capabilities for the business and in upgrading league operations in line with its growth ambitions."
Martin Anayi, the Pro14’s current chief executive, will continue in his role, and will work with the unions and CVC on a commercial plan.
In a statement, the Pro14 said: “CVC was selected by Pro14 Rugby and the unions as their partner due to the extensive experience of prior CVC funds investing in multiple sports businesses, such as Formula 1, Moto GP and Premiership Rugby.”
Anayi added: “CVC’s show of faith has been impressive and is in keeping with their proven track record of success… This partnership allows all of our stakeholders to plan for a sustainable period of growth, which will benefit the fans, the players and the game.”
Dominic McKay, Celtic Rugby DAC’s chairman, said: “One of our key goals was to secure a strategic partner to help accelerate our plans, and CVC brings a wealth of experience and great expertise in this regard.”
CVC already owns 27 per cent of England’s top-tier Premiership Rugby, after signing a deal worth £200 million in December 2018, and before the coronavirus pandemic hit was negotiating with European rugby’s Six Nations Championship, to acquire a 14 per cent stake worth £300 million in the national teams competition.
There have also been reports over the last few months that CVC has held talks with the boards in New Zealand and South Africa over potential investment opportunities.
Outside rugby, it held a controlling stake in motorsport’s Formula 1 competition between 2006 and 2016, and has recently been linked with investment talks with the top soccer leagues in Italy, France and Germany.
As a result of the pandemic, the 2019-20 Pro14 season was suspended indefinitely in March, and no concrete plans for its resumption have yet been announced.
Meanwhile, the Six Nations and Sanzaar, the governing body for rugby union in the southern hemisphere, said today they have been working for the last two months to try and develop a unified global calendar featuring fewer overlaps between domestic and international fixtures, and improved commercial opportunities.
According to a statement today, the two bodies have “adopted a mindset that has sought to eliminate self-interest and recognise that the international and club game have shared mutual benefits that… can enable both to flourish."
They will now engage in a further consultation process, alongside specific clubs and players.
The Six Nations has cited the conversations with Sanzaar being underpinned by a set of seven key principles, including: "Significantly mitigate overlaps between club and country fixtures… Improve narrative and competitiveness of international and domestic competitions around clear windows, (and) evolve competition structures that are underpinned with enhanced commercial offerings.”
The 2020 Six Nations was postponed earlier this year with a number of matches still to play, while all of this summer’s tours from European nations to their southern hemisphere counterparts have been cancelled.
Meanwhile, England's Premiership Rugby has delayed the return to training of clubs until the first week of June at the earliest, meaning the remaining games of the 2019-20 season could be held over until as late as August.
The league has been shut down since early March and English rugby’s Professional Game Board has now said that “more time is needed” to plot a safe return to training - specifically, a minimum of two weeks.
Provisionally, Premiership Rugby had set early July as a best-case scenario for a return to action.
However, whenever training does resume, a number of clubs have said players will take around eight weeks from that point before they are match-fit again.
Chris Booy, the PGB’s chairman, said: “The group agreed that although a huge amount of work is being undertaken to enable a safe return to training… more time was needed to ensure that players, staff and officials can return to a safe training environment, and that is not expected to be in place for a minimum of two weeks.”
He added: “We look forward to the season resuming when it is safe to do so.”
A further delay to the season’s resumption will inevitably cause issues with regards to the 2020-21 campaign, which at this rate could have its start delayed until late autumn or even December, if the Premiership decides not to start the new season until after the international fixtures scheduled for November.
It is also likely to cause significant logistical challenges for the 2020-21 seasons of European club rugby's top-tier Heineken Champions Cup and second-tier European Rugby Challenge Cup.