As a resurgent France tops the Six Nations table, rugby fans and sponsors could be looking at a different competition set-up in future as CVC Capital Partners is reported to be on the verge of taking a 14% share in the tournament.

According to the Financial Times, citing people familiar with the matter, a deal, first mooted last September, could be confirmed within weeks, potentially before the end of this year’s event.

That suggests that the two sides have reached agreement on broadcasting rights. The current agreement with ITV and BBC runs until 2022 and ensures games are shown live on terrestrial television, but CVC wants control of the tournament’s commercial arm and the right to arrange the next broadcasting deal, according to the Guardian – which may include some games only being available via subscription TV.

The buyout firm already owns a 27% holding in Premiership Rugby, the top tier of English club rugby union sponsored by insurance broker Gallagher, and expects to confirm soon a similar stake in the Pro14 league owned by the Irish, Scottish and Welsh Rugby Unions and sponsored by Guinness.

The clubs involved have welcomed the influx of money; “It probably needs an external partner to knock heads and to more commercialise what is regarded as an underexploited sport," said Welsh Rugby Union chairman Gareth Davies last year.

CVC’s ambitions extend beyond European rugby, however. It’s also reported to be in talks with national governing bodies in South Africa and New Zealand and to be planning a new round of talks with the World Rugby, the sport’s governing body that also runs the Rugby World Cup.

Depending on how all this develops, the future of the sport could change in ways that go beyond the sale of media rights, although those too are likely to look very different.

The FT reported that plans under consideration include: 

  • bundling TV rights for rugby competitions around the world into a single package for broadcasters;
  • streaming deals with digital platforms like Amazon; 
  • the creation of a dedicated OTT subscription service.

Competitions themselves could also be reshaped. There has been a suggestion, for example, that South Africa could take part in the Six Nations, although more likely options are the addition of a third South African club side to the Pro14 and the creation of a Club World Cup.

“Private equity is a reality,” said Brett Gosper, chief executive of World Rugby. “We are where we are. [World Rugby] has to deal with reality in the most constructive way.” 

Sourced from Financial Times, Guardian, BBC; additional content by WARC staff