Club Pro14’s rugby competition is changing its name, adding new South African teams and making new broadcast deals, the first sign of how private equity firm CVC Capital Partners is aiming to revamp the sport.
The buyout group paid £ 120million for a 28 percent of the capital in last year’s tournament, one in a series of rugby deals aimed at reshaping the global game by changing the way the sport is sold to fans, sponsors and broadcasters.
The competition, an annual tournament featuring teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Italy and South Africa, is renamed the “United Rugby Championship”, people familiar with the decision said. .
These people said they also made new television deals for the start of the 2021/2022 season in September, including with the BBC in the UK, RTE in Ireland and SuperSport in South Africa. The organizers will also launch a new global subscription streaming service for fans.
While the goal is for the majority of matches to be shown on free TV to reach as many audiences as possible, the broadcast deals will help boost the competition’s annual revenue to £ 55million from £ 25m. million pounds sterling last year.
However, the tournament can still struggle to gain new viewers and new income. Rugby is dominated by interest in national competitions, such as the Six Nations in Europe, the Rugby Championship in the Southern Hemisphere, and the Rugby World Cup.
According to people familiar with the decision, the new United Rugby Championship will play fewer matches on weekends when international fixtures are held and the club’s star players represent their national teams.
Along with its stake in Pro14, CVC also invested in England Premiership Rugby and the Six Nations, the best rugby tournament for national teams in Europe.
Its plans for the United Rugby Championship show how CVC intends to act as a broker between the disparate groups that run the sport in order to improve the value of its investments.
The Luxembourg group, former owner of Formula 1 and Moto GP, has tended to take minority stakes in sports competitions, seeking commercial control in such a way as to allow it to bundle the television rights of different competitions and sell them to diffusers.
In addition to rugby, the buyout group has also acquired a stake in the world’s volleyball governing body and has recently entered into investment talks with companies such as ATP and CAP, the men’s and women’s tennis circuits, Italian Serie A Football League, and American basketball franchise San Antonio Spurs.
The United Rugby Championship will drop from 14 to 16 teams. Two South African teams, the Southern Kings and the Cheetahs, have left the competition but will be replaced by four of the country’s biggest teams: the Lions, Stormers, Sharks and Bulls.
Over time, South Africa Rugby, the country’s federation, will also become a shareholder in the competition, bringing it closer to some of the main European federations.
CVC has also discussed investing in South African rugby and is in talks to create a Club World Cup tournament of the world’s top club rugby teams. The CVC’s recent influence on rugby has helped push the discussions forward and a new global competition could be launched as early as 2024, according to people familiar with the discussions.