January 2016, possibly the last time the SANZAAR nations felt things were going well.
The 2015 World Cup had just finished, with all four making the semi-finals. Super Rugby was about to expand into Japan, just in time to capitalise on a Japanese World Cup in four years. Europe might have had money but SANZAAR had the product.
Yet in reality, it set in motion the beginning of the end. Some may view it as self-inflicted, but I think it is down to the Six Nations joining forces with a new shadowy force that entered rugby. Their plan was for the ‘great reset’, where the rest of the world would own nothing important, but they would be happy. What other choice would they have?
In Lausanne, Switzerland sits the headquarters of the Court of Arbitration for Sport. There is also a rugby body that sits in Lausanne that seeks to be the highest rugby court in the world. They are looking to be judge, jury and executioner of all decisions, including who gets what World Cups.
They have people in all the important places to do their bidding. It may not be run by a certain Klaus, but the driving force behind it seems like Santa Klaus to its fellow partners.
For years, SANZAAR stood side by side with their guns squarely pointed at the Six Nations.
The Six Nations, however, were much more focused pointing guns at themselves. This new shadowy force has form – The Commission, much like the New York Mafia, where the right people sit down with each other to get the deals done.
Who is this Santa Klaus who gives gifts to the EPCR nations, yet is so bad for those outside this elite circle. Some will think it is CVC but it is actually CVC and European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR). This two-headed monster is both commercial and political in nature.
EPCR’s shareholders are each of the Six Nation Unions plus the three club bodies that represent English, French and Welsh teams in their respective leagues. The executive committee is made up of three voting parties which is one from each league.
CVC hold a share in Six Nations, Premiership and URC, meaning they have a majority vote for an EPCR issue when it comes to commercial issues. The flip side of this is that CVC signing a big deal for one shareholder, means they can also do it for others. Because of this CVC have the ability to sell the Six Nations, Champions Cup, Challenge Cup, Top 14, Premiership and United Rugby Championship.
Even the World Cup might struggle against all them.
The EPCR nations have 21-23 out of 51 votes at World Rugby, the additional two votes is Rugby Europe that floats around the 50 per cent control mark. The three largest voting blocs in World Rugby are EPCR 21-23 votes, Six Nations 18-20 votes, URC 15 votes. SANZAAR is the only other block in double digits with 12 votes.
Currently South Africa is an associate member of the URC family, they are looking to become a made member. SARU President Mark Alexander said: “So, we have to do the things that are best for South Africa Rugby and that is our principle now, we do anything that is best for our game and for our players.”
In 2019 the media focused on the race between Bill Beaumont and Agustín Pichot. Bernard Laporte was going to be vice president, because SANZAAR and other nations could only focus on one race. Beaumont was the EPCR nominee (before South Africa joined), Pichot was the rest of the world nominee.
Pichot was the person who had brought the Americas together for a Six Nations and setting up the South American Rugby League.
When the Six Nations rejected the World League, the media outside Europe sold it as the Six Nations mafia not caring about the rest of the world. The stage was set for the biggest election for the soul of rugby.
It was a shock to SANZAAR and the uninitiated unions when the vote finished 28-23 in favour of Beaumont. It was a lesson South Africa had learnt the hard way, when they tried to host the World Cup. The Six Nations only had control over 20 of the 51 votes.
To their dismay, Canada, Samoa, Fiji, Japan, Africa Region and half of America North Region had sided with the mafia. Instead of sticking together, backroom deals and promises had won over the votes needed. Many viewed SANZAAR and the Six Nations as two sides of the same coin. But COVID hit, and all of this was soon forgotten.
SANZAAR, though young, was run by a bunch of old men. They were the ones to be a COVID death statistic. New Zealand with the support of Australia removed South Africa and Argentina from Super Rugby. With no place to go, both applied to become associate members of the URC family. In time they hoped to become made members, pledging total allegiance to the family and the mafia.
Argentina was rejected, and by doing so, sent a message to South Africa. What was once considered good enough for SANZAAR could be too small for EPCR to bother with. CVC would tell South Africa what to do commercially and EPCR groups would tell them what to do politically. The reward was untold wealth and probably the 2035 or 2039 World Cup.
CVC have spent $1.2 billion between their investments in URC, Premiership, Six Nations and the Autumn Series Cup. They purchased a share of the commercial deals, not the unions themselves. In order for them to make money they must grow the commercial side of rugby.
CNBC in March 2021 put the revenue for CVC at between $35-50 million a year. CVC are now a de facto seller of TV and commercial rights over all EPCR members outside the Top 14, and have by far the biggest bundle of games for sale.
The other key part to CVC’s investment is the money helped Europe ride out COVID for the most part.
In the World League CVC showed what they could do. World Rugby thought they were offering the Six Nations an offer even they couldn’t refuse, and yet they did. World Rugby thought that if all international games were combined for all Tier 1 and Tier 2 countries that they could keep control.
Led by CVC the Six Nations agreed to sell all internationals involving the Six Nations teams through CVC.
CVC, as promised, delivered them more than they would have received from World Rugby.
The Six Nations also agreed to certain conditions that would be adhered to for any future World League. No tournament would be above the Six Nations. They controlled who would take part in the Six Nations and no other governing body would tell them otherwise (welcome South Africa).
The members of the EPCR would determine the length and members of a World League and what compensation would be given to the clubs. CVC would either be a part of it or would be helping with the commercial deals.
To show who is playing chess and who is playing checkers we only need look at the off-season and recent announcements. Super Rugby’s unions decided that they would share existing TV revenue. The Top 14, EPCR and URC made a deal with USA TV company Flosports, bringing the CVC bundle up to 450 games per season.
Rugby Pacific, The Rugby Championship and NPC are now a small part of Flosports. The Super Cup also agreed a deal. It’s a long time between the NPC and Super Rugby, by which time most casual fans will only care about Europe. When both deals come up for renewal the bigger CVC deal will grow, leaving little else for others.
Qatar Airlines just did a deal to pay for all flights for teams between South Africa and Europe for the URC, Champions and Challenge Cups. This will no longer need to be paid for by the leagues and will be a ready carrier for the addition of South Africa and possibly a Rugby Europe-sponsored team.
Every union has their price as we have seen with CVC and Silver Lake. The difference is CVC focuses on commercial ventures. Either each region of the world will become subservient to the new cabal or they must do the following now.
1. Unions must empower leagues to run themselves and mandate they grow commercial value.
2. All unions unwilling to be subservient to the EPCR mafia must form a counter group, and sell all rugby in combined bundles to commercial partners.
3. Either build the expertise or bring in private equity to grow the commercial income.
4. Use the private equity money to build player production lines, and develop new income streams
The guns are not pointing in anymore, the tanks are pointing out.