CVC can supercharge Pro14 revenues says SRU’s Mark Dodson

Private equity firm takes latest step into rugby

Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson. Picture: Gary Hutchison / SNS

SRU chief executive Mark Dodson insists that CVC is a partner Scottish rugby can trust despite a shaky reputation following its controversial brush with Formula 1 a few years ago.

At a time of great uncertainty due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the BT Murrayfield boss was keen to stress that the 27 per cent stakehold deal struck by the Guinness Pro14, which is believed to be worth around £120 million over an unspecified time frame, in which the SRU will rake in “north of £20m”, is a shaft of light in gloomy skies.

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The private equity firm has been circling rugby union for some years now, since its involvement with Formula 1 came to a somewhat acrimonious end amid accusations of extracting profit more than it contributed. “Whatever deal they struck with Formula 1 and how that worked is another issue. On this deal they have committed a significant amount of money to the league and the ambition is that everyone would earn more,” said Dodson.

“The whole purpose of inviting an investor into the league is that can supercharge revenues. The idea is that we can bring extra money into the league for everybody, them included, so our whole purpose is to make sure this is how we maintain Pro14’s growth. The growth has been pretty substantial but we believe it has been the key to unlocking even further growth.”

Dodson insisted that the deal showed that, while the short to mid-term future was in flux due to the current situation, the private equity firm, which has a 27 per cent share in England’s Premiership Rugby Ltd and has been wooing both World Rugby and the Six Nations, had faith in the competition’s long-term viable future in the face of current issues regarding its cross-border, pan-hemisphere nature involving teams from Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Italy and South Africa.

As part of the re-organisation the Italian federation has now been welcomed into the fold as a member of Celtic Rugby and Dodson stressed that, while not shareholders, the South African clubs Cheetahs and Southern Kings, who joined in 2017, are seen as part of the future of the 
competition.

It’s pretty clear that the broadcasting and commercial sphere is what attracts a firm like CVC to these kind of partnerships, but Dodson insisted that was not a pressing concern at the moment despite the fact that the Pro14’s current TV deal with Premier Sports is up next year.

“I think at the moment Covid-19 has paused everybody’s ideas about negotiating broadcasting deals. We’ll go back and consult with the other unions and our partners. I expect to see a host of broadcasters queuing up,” he said.

Of course, before that there is the issue of the current Pro14 season which is currently “temporarily suspended” but, according to reports last week, looking to finish off with a behind-closed-doors play-off stage, which would definitely involve Conference B leaders Edinburgh and, potentially, third-placed in Conference A Glasgow in late August/early September.

“It’s going to be guided by government and medical advice and CVC will not be involved with that,” insisted Dodson. “They just want to help stabilise our future and know we’ll do what’s right.

“The safety of our players and the safety of our people will be the determining factor.”

When the SRU struck a £20m sponsorship deal with BT back in 2015, which involved naming rights of Murrayfield, it was seen as a massive boon. This CVC investment may be of a similar amount but comes at a very different time.

“We’ve got to understand the new future,” said Dodson. “We’ve been expanding for the past ten years and now you’re going to see a period of retraction.

“Nobody knows the future for rugby, be it grassroots, professional or international. We’ll be looking closely at how we get over this bridge from where we are now to when the pandemic subsides.

“This money is safeguarded, it’s ring-fenced. It’s not designated for the professional game, grassroots, or Murrayfield expansion. We need to work out how we get across this bridge as appropriately as we can.

“This deal sees a long-term sustainable league. We understand that there is going to be disruption for up to nine, ten months through coronavirus. They [CVC] are looking way beyond that, it’s a commitment to our league in the longer term. In real terms it’s going to take a good number of years to supercharge.”

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