The chief executive of UKTV, the BBC-backed broadcast group behind channels such as Dave, is being lined up as the new commercial chief of English rugby union’s top club competition.
Sky News has learnt that Darren Childs, who has run UKTV since 2010, is in advanced talks to join Premiership Rugby as head of the division that will oversee all future broadcasting and other commercial rights activities.
Sources indicated on Monday evening that Mr Childs’ name was likely to be disclosed to the 12 Gallagher Premiership clubs, which include Bath, Harlequins, Saracens, Sale Sharks, the Newcastle Falcons and the current Championship leaders Exeter Chiefs at a meeting this week.
He is understood to have been nominated for the role of chief executive – commercial at Premier Rugby Limited by CVC Capital Partners, which agreed a £230m deal to acquire a 27% stake in and voting control of the league’s commercial rights in December.
Sources said on Monday that Mr Childs’ appointment is understood to remain subject to the approval of the 13 clubs.
If it is ratified, Mark McCafferty, the current Premiership Rugby chief executive, is expected to join the board with continued responsibilities for sporting aspects of the organisation.
The deal, which is due to complete by the end of next month, is a landmark one for English rugby, and comes at a time when professional sporting bodies are increasingly turning to experienced broadcast executives to maximise commercial revenues.
Mr Childs was linked in media reports last week to the vacancy at the top of the Premier League, but is understood to have had no interest in, or discussions about, that post.
The Premier League has been forced to resume its search for a new chief executive after Susanna Dinnage, a senior Discovery executive, decided not to take up the role she had agreed to late last year.
Coincidentally, UKTV is a joint venture between the BBC and Discovery, but is set to be broken up under a deal that will see its portfolio of channels carved up between the two partners.
The Premier League had also shortlisted executives from the BBC and ITV prior to selecting Ms Dinnage, but is now searching outside the broadcasting industry to find a long-term successor to Richard Scudamore.
For Premiership Rugby, the appointment of a heavyweight television executive such as Mr Childs is likely to signal CVC’s ambitions to grow the sport’s international commercial appeal.
That may include seeking to acquire other rugby-related assets, both in the UK and overseas.
In addition to the £18m cash windfall handed to each club, CVC’s track record at investing in top-level sport was a significant factor in persuading the clubs to accept its offer.
The private equity firm, which is among the world’s largest, made billions of pounds for its investors from its ownership of Formula One motor racing, which it sold to Liberty Media in 2016.
CVC has also owned MotoGP, as well as leisure and media assets such as the London Dungeon-owner Merlin Entertainments and Stage Entertainment, an international theatre group.
Those investments have generated huge returns for the firm’s backers and executives. Many of the clubs in rugby union’s top flight are lossmaking, and are reliant on revenues from a broadcast rights deal with BT Sport which runs until 2021 and a title sponsorship deal with the US-based insurer Gallagher.
“Since Premiership Rugby was formed in 1997, our owners have invested more than £400m to build up the clubs and the competition which today sees the Gallagher Premiership broadcast in over 200 countries around the world,” Mr McCafferty said at the time the transaction with CVC was confirmed.
The statement said the competition’s commercial income had risen by more than 80% during the last five years.
One source said the structure of the deal announced in December would leave the sporting element of Premiership Rugby under the clubs’ control, with Mr Childs free to focus on expanding its commercial operations.
A keen rugby fan, Mr Childs previously worked at Star TV in Asia and Sony Pictures, as well as BBC Worldwide, the corporation’s commercial arm.
Under his leadership, UKTV has gained a roughly 10% share of Britain’s TV market, with the 10 channels in its portfolio generating a threefold increase in profits.
The agreement reached between Premiership Rugby and CVC late last year ended months of on-off talks following the rejection of an earlier proposal to buy a controlling stake in the league worth £275m.
UKTV and CVC declined to comment.