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S4C could miss out on matches as private equity giant completes deal for share of Six Nations

11 Mar 2021 3 minutes Read
Picture by Malcolm Murdoch (CC BY-SA 2.0)

S4C could miss out on Six Nations matches after a private equity giant completed a deal for a share in the tournament.

CVC’s £365m deal for a 14 per cent slice, which has been two years in the making, means there is uncertainty about the ability of the Welsh language TV channel to broadcast games in the future, as the tournament looks set to go behind a paywall.

It comes after CVC purchased a stake in the Premiership and Pro14.

The money will be split on a sliding scale between unions, with the Rugby Football Union receiving £95m.

The competition has always been free to air but that looks like it is going to change as the deal which enables S4C to broadcast the games and sees coverage shared between the BBC and ITV, ends this year.

The UK government rejected calls for the Championship to be added to the Category A list of sporting events that must be available free to air last year.

This means it doesn’t have so called protected “crown jewel” status unlike the World Cup in rugby and football, the Olympics, the FA Cup, Wimbledon and the Grand National, and therefore there is nothing to prevent it from going on to subscription channels from 2022.

It is understood that the likeliest outcome would be a mix of terrestrial and Pay TV, and it remains to be seen whether S4C would be able to continue to provide coverage of all of Wales’ games, as is the case now.

But there could be a limit on the number of games going behind a paywall as part of the agreement. Some of the contenders are thought to be Sky Sports, BT Sport and Amazon Prime.

Following news of the deal’s completion, Six Nations chief executive Ben Morel told the BBC: “This is a hugely positive development. When we started this journey, our aim was to ensure we found the right strategic partner, who can add real value and is committed to a long-term relationship.

“CVC recognises the exciting potential in the Six Nations Championships and autumn international series, and they are aligned with our vision for the future.”

‘Paywall option’ 

Before the deal was completed, a leading figure in Welsh rugby told Wales Online what he thought the CVC strategy would be: “They were only interested in coming on board if there was a paywall option, as that’s where they will make their money,” he said.

“The negotiations were delayed while the UK government considered whether the Six Nations should be enhanced to crown jewels status.

“With that rejected, the CVC investment has been able to go ahead.

“There is no way they would have contemplated doing the deal if there weren’t paywall possibilities.

“They are incentivised to drive revenue because they will get a percentage of commercial income moving forward. So that means pay TV.

“CVC will have a major influence on the negotiations for the next TV deal. If you are not going to draw on their expertise, why would you have them there?

“Similarly, why would the Six Nations bring them on board and sell forward a chunk of their income if they didn’t believe doing so would drive revenue up?”

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