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It should be no surprise TV money could lead to a Seven Nations Championship

David Kelly



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Front foot: Former Ulster star Ruan Pienaar in action for the Toyota Cheetahs against Southern Kings

Front foot: Former Ulster star Ruan Pienaar in action for the Toyota Cheetahs against Southern Kings

�INPHO/Frikkie Kapp

Front foot: Former Ulster star Ruan Pienaar in action for the Toyota Cheetahs against Southern Kings

You may not have noticed that while the world's oldest and self-styled greatest rugby championship continued in three European capitals last weekend, one of the youngest was also marching doggedly towards its conclusion in another hemisphere.

Toyota Cheetahs v Isuzu Southern Kings in the PRO14? Anyone? Didn't think so. We won't tell you the result as there is a good chance it will be repeated several times a day on subscription this weekend in case you're desperate for a rugby fix.

At first glance, this game had nothing to do with this year's Six Nations but it does open a window to what the Championship might look like in years to come.

Time, literally, is of the essence.

Time zones - where people want to watch their rugby and when they want to watch it - are crucial to the next tectonic shifts in the sport.

Time and, of course, money.

There were many people interested in Cheetahs versus Kings but naturally they weren't residing on the continent of Europe.

A crowd of 8,000 was a healthy enough attendance at the Toyota Stadium last Saturday but it was the steady stream of advertising in the ground and beyond it, and crucially the ongoing maintenance of healthy viewing figures on Supersport, which were much more notable than the game itself, one the home side won in a canter, 45-0 (oops, apologies).

From a sporting perspective, the two South African sides may offer nothing of interest to the wider fan but they offer what matters to those people who count - especially those people who count money.

And the more the pot is dwindling from the increasingly irrelevant Super Rugby Championship, the more the money men will cast their gaze from south of the equator to north.

The arrival of private equity firm CVC may not have changed any games yet but the injection of their vast finances is a game-changer - having parked a golden Trojan Horse behind the walls of the Premiership and PRO14, only the Six Nations remains left for them to conquer.

A final sticking point in a deal which is all about control and money (€300m/£250m) will not be solved until there is a final agreement on control and money.

The folks from CVC want to wrestle the TV rights from those who currently run the sport.

Broadcast rights between the TV companies and Six Nations chiefs are up for final negotiations just as the talks between CVC and Six Nations reach their final stage. Only a fool would ignore the inextricable link between the two issues.

This is where South Africa comes into the conversation.

Just as the recently crowned world champions are eyeing a far more favourable outlet for their territory's vast passion for the sport, so too are CVC raising their hemlines.

If Six Nations does become Seven, CVC will need to ensure that even if not all their competition is flogged to an Amazon or a Sky in order to recoup some of their investment, they will need the South Africans and their potential audience to compensate them for the rest of their outlay they might defer if the rest remains on free-to-air TV.

South Africa will need to wriggle away from their commitments to the SANZAR TV deal which ties them to the Rugby Championship, and the pressure from rivals to remain has started.

It's not the first time the Boks have threatened to walk away but never before has there been so much money dangling.

Those who pontificate about the sanctity of the Six Nations forget it is only 20 years since it was a Five Nations; there was once a time it was merely Four.

Tradition may have enormous value but that inevitable means it comes with a price.

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