Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
In a very positive development for the sport in America, Universal Sports Network, NBC Sports, and the International Rugby Board (IRB) today announced a partnership that will bring to U.S. audiences unprecedented national television and digital media coverage of the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cup tournaments.
The announcement was made by Universal Sports CEO David Sternberg and Mike Miller, CEO and Secretary General, International Rugby Board.
Universal Sports, the preeminent destination for Olympic-related sports programming, and NBC Sports will provide full, multi-platform coverage of all 48 matches during the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand and the 2015 World Cup in England.
Two matches in each tournament, including the Finals in 2011 and 2015, will air either live or on a same-day delay on NBC Sports.
Two live matches per tournament may not seem like much, but is a major step forward. With the finals taking up one spot, the other game will presumably involve the USA Eagles as it is an American broadcast and part of their strategy will likely include putting the American National Team on display.
Live and delayed match video will also be accessible at www.universalsports.com , and on Universal Sports’ mobile platforms.
Universal Sports’ and NBC Sports’ match coverage will feature a studio pre-game show, halftime and post-game shows, as well as several other production enhancements, and will be offered in high definition.
Universal Sports and NBC Sports’ production and analysis will likely trump foreign productions by miles. If you are a frequent visitor to Rugby America, you may already know my feelings towards current rugby broadcasts and how they are stuck in the Dark Ages compared to the production quality and content of American sports broadcasts.
Universal Sports and NBC bring their flair, experience, and production values to rugby and the fans are the big winners in the end. This development may very well serve as a seminal moment in the growth of rugby in America.
“This is a very significant rights acquisition for Universal Sports, especially given the growing popularity of rugby around the world and in America,” said Sternberg. “We are delighted to be partnering with the IRB for the Rugby World Cup and other top events, and we look forward to showcasing global rugby, at its highest level, for our audiences across all of our platforms-television, online and mobile.”
“Today’s announcement represents a significant milestone in the development of Rugby in the United States,” said Miller. “NBC and Universal Sports are globally renowned for quality broadcast delivery of major sports events in the United States and their considerable experience and passion for sport will deliver the widespread platform for Rugby World Cup to truly capture the hearts and minds of American sports fans.”
The Rugby World Cup is one of the largest and most avidly watched sporting events in the world, drawing an estimated 4.2 billion viewers worldwide during the last championship in France in 2007. However, the American sporting market has been left out of the mix aside from coverage from Setanta Sports that was not readily available or even known by the majority of American sports fans.
The competition next year begins on September 9, 2011, when host New Zealand meets Tonga in Auckland. The tournament field consists of 20 different nations, including the United States, who will compete over the course of a month for the coveted Webb Ellis Cup.
New Zealand and Australia jointly hosted the first edition of the Rugby World Cup in 1987 while South Africa is the defending champion from 2007.
The agreement extends Universal Sports’ focus on rugby, which will debut at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Since the beginning of June, the network has really built up their rugby coverage. They have teamed up with USA Rugby and televised the U.S. Sevens Collegiate Championship Invitational and the six-country Churchill Cup tournament.
Television ratings from the 1st ever Collegiate Sevens Championship came in with better than expected numbers. More importantly, the CCI television ratings were better than more established events from the same weekend. Most notably, the NCAA Lacrosse Championship which has been running since 1971 and enjoys prominent coverage on ESPN.
The CCI’s initial success will likely breed additional qualifying tournaments in 2011, thus allowing more colleges to get in on the action. Hopefully NBC and Universal’s coverage will also extend to those tournaments and continue the upsurge for rugby in America.
After years of being relegated to pay-per-view rugby and watching streaming video on our PC’s, it’s nice to see rugby get it due from a major player in the sports broadcast world. Great broadcast, excellent productions, and HD video might just spoil all of us.
This might just be the tip of the iceberg my friends.
Enjoy it, share it with your friends, and most of all… support it. We can make a difference with our support and pocketbooks.
P.S. NBC, if you’re out there… there is one rugby writer that you could make infinitely happy if you were to pick up coverage of the IRB Sevens World Series. Pretty please?