Two executives of the private equity firm with plans to take the Six Nations off free-to-air TV recently made five-figure donations to the Conservative party, Nation.Cymru can reveal.
Electoral Commission records show that Robert R. Lucas, a managing partner and director of the UK arm of CVC Capital Partners, gave £25,000 to the Tories on November 28 – two weeks before the general election.
Such funding is completely legal but the links between CVC and the Conservative party can be revealed just days after the Conservative UK Government rejected a campaign led by Welsh MPs to stop the Six Nations being put behind a paywall for the first time since 1997.
Six Nations matches could be taken off the BBC and ITV as part of a £300 million deal for CVC to acquire a 15% stake in the Six Nations.
The sum donated by Robert R. Lucas is exactly the amount needed to qualify him for ‘the Treasurers’ Group’ – an exclusive Conservative party donor club which offers access to the Chancellor.
“The Treasurers’ Group is aimed at supporters predominately employed in the financial services and business sectors,” the Conservative party’s website explains. “Members will be invited to discuss topical issues of the day with the Chancellor and other senior figures.”
The figure given by Robin P. Hooper is the membership fee for the Conservative’s ‘Renaissance Group’, which promises members “dinners and political debate with eminent speakers from the world of business and politics.”
CVC have already bought a 27% stake of the English Premiership and Pro 14 with a promise to increase broadcast revenue.
Lucas and Hooper, along with one other CVC representative, are both on the board of Premier Rugby Limited, the company which controls the English Premiership.
News of the deal’s ramifications for broadcasting caused a public outcry and led to Kevin Brennan, Labour MP for Cardiff West, tabling an early day motion in the UK Parliament which called for the Six Nations to be “placed in the Government’s Category A of sporting events which must be made available live on free-to-air platforms.”
The motion was supported by 34 more MPs from six parties, the majority of them from Wales.
The UK Parliament’s digital, culture, media and sport committee also took up the campaign, issuing a formal request that the tournament be protected as a ‘grade A’ event to England’s Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden.
But it was revealed last week that the request had been rejected. Backbench Conservative MP Julian Knight, who chairs the committee, said: “It is very disappointing and a real missed opportunity that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is not even prepared to consider our request.
“It would have given fans hope for the future to see a national event that brings people together was being protected for all. That’s the message that becomes even more important in a time like this.”
Sky Sports are in pole position to win the next contract for the tournament’s broadcast rights, according to the Rugby Paper. Amazon has been cited as another potential paywall bidder.
CVC have a history of doing business with Sky, buying an 80% stake in its gambling arm, Sky Bet, for £800 million in 2014.
At the time, Lucas said: “We are delighted to have agreed to acquire a controlling stake in Sky Bet…The partnership between CVC and Sky will provide a strong platform to support SkyBet’s ongoing success at this exciting point in its development.”
Neither he nor Hooper has previously made a political donation. Although, under Lucas’s chairmanship, the British Private Equity & Venture Capital Association issued a warning about the impact of a Labour government on business ahead of the 2015 general election.