The chairman of Wm Morrison, the supermarket chain, is being lined up to chair English rugby’s top domestic league as its new private equity backers seek to transform its commercial clout.
Sky News has learnt that Andrew Higginson – a former board member at the English Rugby Football Union – has been nominated to chair Premiership Rugby Limited.
Mr Higginson’s appointment, which is subject to the approval of the Gallagher Premiership’s 12 clubs, is expected to take effect in the new year.
If ratified, it will bring a heavyweight business figure into the sport’s boardroom about eight months after Darren Childs, the former boss of broadcaster UKTV, was hired as Premiership Rugby’s chief executive.
The recruitment of a leading corporate name as its chairman will also underline the intent of CVC Capital Partners, the league’s new investor, to forge a new commercial path for the sport.
CVC, which made billions of dollars from its previous investment in Formula One motor racing, agreed a deal to invest more than £300m into Premiership Rugby last year in return for a minority shareholding.
More recently, it struck an outline deal to acquire a stake in Pro14, which is jointly owned by the Irish, Scottish and Welsh rugby unions.
CVC is also reported to be close to clinching an agreement to buy a stake in the Six Nations tournament which takes place each spring.
The purchase of shareholdings in some of Europe’s major rugby union tournaments should enable a more structured approach to the sale of broadcast rights in order to maximise their value, people close to the sport have said.
England’s impressive run to the World Cup Final in Japan, where they were beaten by South Africa, stoked domestic interest in rugby union, although the sport’s image has been damaged by the row involving Saracens’ breaches of the top division’s salary cap.
A source close to one Premiership Rugby club said on Tuesday that Mr Higginson’s appointment was likely to gain the clubs’ overwhelming support.
The Morrison’s chairman was a senior executive at Tesco during the period when it became Britain’s dominant food retailer.
He has also served on the boards of a number of companies – including Sky News’ owner when it was a standalone listed business – and worked at leading consumer goods producers including Unilever and Guinness.
CVC could not be reached for comment.