Rugby America

Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective

Sticker Shock From Universal Sports Pricing Of Online RWC Coverage

by Ted Hardy

I will be the first person to tell you that it is absolutely necessary that rugby, as a sport in America, comes with some sort of a price tag. It is an absolute must that rugby be associated with value. Be that for investors to advertisers all the way down to casual sports fans. That is a major problem that the game faces in the United States.

However, in the case of Universal Sport’s upcoming Rugby World Cup coverage, that value has been severely overestimated. With the World Cup set to kick off in a couple weeks, I checked into Universal Sports to look into their online World Cup Package. This is a package that I was fully expecting to purchase in order to enjoy every last drop of rugby’s biggest tournament.

To my chagrin, if I am to enjoy any World Cup coverage, it will need to come from another source. Universal Sports Rugby World Cup package comes in at a hefty $124.99. That is even with the $25 discount they are offering if you purchase the package now. For those that do not have Universal Sports on their cable and satellite provider (or want access to more games), that pricing will be a hard pill to swallow.

Broken down to each game, the pricing isn’t that all that bad, but if you throw away the number of meaningless pool play blowouts and get down to the really good games, the package isn’t all that great.  The entire tournament may only produce ten or so truly memorable games.

To make matters even worse, the individual game pricing comes off as an attempt to strong arm people into buying the full package.  I read it twice just to make sure that I wasn’t seeing it wrong. The going rate for individual pool round games is $24.99 per game. Yep, that’s right… $24.99 per game and once the tournament moves into the knockout rounds that number jumps to $29.99 per game. Those are hefty prices by any standard and pushing up towards the amount you’d spend on a pay per view boxing or MMA event. I just don’t see anyone forking over that type of money for a Romania vs. Scotland or any other matchup for that matter.

Remember, this is just online coverage of a tournament that lasts no more than two months. In comparison, you could purchase the NFL’s online package for just $39.99 (which I am now looking into since I won’t be paying for the RWC package). Throw in the NFL playoffs and the package comes in at $54.98. Major League Baseball’s impressive MLB.TV package is only $99.99 and that is an insane amount of games delivered as well or better than any other online sports broadcaster. Granted, both of those sports giants make far more money on the advertising, but if sports fans are faced with the choice of paying for online rugby content or going with the NFL, guess who is going to win?

I honestly expected more competitive pricing from Universal Sports. After all, this is rugby we’re talking about. While it is a world-wide sport played by millions, it has little footing in America and almost no broadcasting clout.

Knowing the IRB, the broadcasting rights to the World Cup likely cost NBC/Universal a significant amount of money. I expect that they will deliver top notch coverage of the World Cup and I hope they are able to recoup their investment. I had predetermined that I would purchase the package if it came in around $50, but this number isn’t even close. I might have stretched a little bit over that number, but not far. Even at the single game price of $24.99 per game, I surely won’t be picking out any single games to watch.

I never expected them to give away the games for free, but this is very disappointing.

16 comments on “Sticker Shock From Universal Sports Pricing Of Online RWC Coverage

  1. Benito
    August 26, 2011

    It was shocking when I looked at it. Trying to find a teammate to share the cost with me.

  2. Doug Porter
    August 26, 2011

    It’s really even worse than that, because for most of the games shown on TV we have to wait 24 hours after to get it online. Only 1 eagles game is available live online.

    Pretty disappointing. I am ponying up the cost (don’t get the TV channel, am unable to go out to watch games due to young children, and am too excited about tournament to miss it), but actually apologized to the wife for doing so.


  3. Tom Smith
    August 27, 2011

    I get universal on DirectTV and they are showing Eagles games and maybe a New Zealnd game. Most of the Eagles games will be boring mismatches. Games that have no flow or demonstration of rugby skill and talent. We will miss games like NZ v France and others. Rugby is doing itself a dis service by not letting Americans new to rugby see the ABs or Springboks play

    • Benito
      August 29, 2011

      While I want to see the Eagles play, I really agree with you. It would be better to promote the game to show 3 or 4 of the better pool games. They should probably show the following matches in stead: Argentina v England, Ireland v Australia, France v New Zealand and then S. Africa/Wales or Fiji/Samoa.

      The island matchup is intriguing to me. I perceive that there would be a bit of a rivalry. Eventhough I would rather watch the Springboks. But completely agree with you about not showing the better teams.

  4. Steve
    September 3, 2011

    I have DirecTV and pay extra for Fox Soccer Plus for rugby coverage. I regularly enjoy the HD games such as the recent Tr-Nations matches(rugby in HD is brilliant). I would have paid $150 for the package, or even $20-25 for individual HD games. So I went looking for my options on DirecTV.

    DirecTV has all the games and in HD, except that each games is $34.95, no packege pricing available. And the games on NBC Universal that are free are NOT in HD. Classic decision.

    And the kicker is the rumor (source is an ESPN exec.) that ESPN strongly wanted the US rights to the Cup so they could air the games (presumably free) on their collection of channels. But the IRB went with NBC because of the Olympic tie-in. If true, that takes the cake!

    NBC’s decision to air the Cup like this simply makes no sense as it does not maximize exposure and cannot possibly maximize revenue. I hope the IRB is having (yet another) ‘WTF’ moment in response to this.

  5. Andrew Gilbert
    September 5, 2011

    I cannot believe that Universal is only showing two games in the first week of the tourney and that if I want to see a decent match on my TV I have to pay the outrageous fee. I hope NBC and the IRB lose a boatload of cash on this… Such ineptitude is amazing for a professional network and I had such high hopes that a major network could generate excitement for rugby in America. They’ve completely missed the opportunity.

  6. Dave in Colorado
    September 6, 2011

    Well!! What can I say that hasn’t already been said; having played rugby and been involved both on and off the field in Europe and also having a little bit of a hand in marketing/promoting rugby to the British in the early days of professionalism back in the mid 90’s when it was in a little difficulty. It was not easy getting people to the stadiums or to subscribe a little extra to watch rugby. “Most of these people already loved the game and were/are hardened rugby fans”, but it took nearly a year to get the public mobilized and to start spending again. And here we are in the United States with a little known sports station “Universal Sports” trying to do this in one month, not even Disney could do that

    So I ask the marketing and programmers at NBC and Universal Sports, “did you think you were buying the rights to world cup soccer or maybe the Ryder cup or even Tennis, because I believe you have no idea what you have.

    Rugby is a fast flowing exciting, on the edge of your seat game. This was a great opportunity to make your mark with some great promotional content and shrewd marketing. But instead you haven’t only shot your selves in the foot but you just blown your foot off. Every TV station/corporation has to make money and make a profit. And I absolutely agree with that, but you have out-priced yourself.

    I have no idea about scheduling and what you can or cannot show. However, if you do have the rights to show all the games on TV then show them all for free and get the advertisers to foot the bill. As for online streaming then that package should be a half the price.

    I for one cannot justify the high costs as much as I love the game, its way out of my reach and out of the reach of so many others especially those new supporter to the game. WHAT A TRAGEDY!!

    When I was starting out in Business/Marketing Advertising and Promotions there was a saying back in the eighties that attached itself to anything new, “Orange Phones, a new restaurant, a new television station and even a new rugby club” that saying was “you have to speculate to accumulate”!! I guess greed knocked that on out of the ball park.

    If my disappointment shows I can’t say I’m sorry, as I am very frustrated and very tired of media companies getting greedy and if senior members from the IRB or RWC committee get to read this and you knew this was going to happen in the USA “SHAME ON YOU” It was always emphasized to me at meetings in Dublin, Cardiff and even Paris prior to the 99 world cup how important it was to reach the masses and at the same time increase the fan base worldwide “Guess the USA was not included in those plans”.

    Well, guess I will have to make other arrangements, sadly.

  7. John Amosa
    September 7, 2011

    I have just moved to the USA from South Africa and I am a New Zealand Maori boy. The whole thing appeals to me because I love rugby, however it is disappointing that around the world every game is being shown live to huge audiences and the cost is being absorbed by the television station or the national rugby organization. The problem with the RWC here is that the times are crazy to be able to watch the matches. It is difficult for USA rugby to promote the RWC because of the lunatic times that are involved. I believe that this is the most rugby from a World Cup that has been shown on TV here in the US. Sad, but a reality. The cost to get it is high, I agree, but until rugby is able to compete with other ‘minority’ sports in the USA, it is going to cost those who love it. It doesn’t do much for the growth of rugby in this country but right now it is all that is on offer. Direct TV have no packages and the games are $34.95 a match. Do I ever want to pay that for Romania vs. Scotland?

  8. Andrew Gilbert
    September 7, 2011

    I could fly to New Zealand for the $1600 plus it would cost me to order all the games in HD.

  9. Steve
    September 8, 2011

    Still no package pricing, but DirecTV has dropped the price per game to $14.95.

  10. BobbyLee
    September 11, 2011

    Little more to say that hasn’t already been said. How disappointing! If the price was under $50 NBC would likely get four, five or even ten times the people interested. Very poor marketing for one of the most dynamic and most watched sports in the world.

  11. Dave in Colorado
    September 12, 2011

    Just a heads up for anyone with Direct TV I watched the Wales V S. Africa game on PPV. Channels 492,494 and 496 are showing most of the games live and are charging only $12:95 which seems to be a much better option than the Universal Sports Cycling channel are offering.

  12. Rugby America
    September 12, 2011

    The Official RWC website is also beginning to post replays of all of the matches. There is a 72 hour delay on being able to watch the replays for fans in America. I tried to play a couple this morning just to see and none of the games would play. If the 72 hour window is correct, then the NZ/Tonga match should be available tonight with the others following in the next few days.

  13. anon
    September 19, 2011

    Comments deleted due to poster using invalid email address.

  14. Rugby America
    September 20, 2011

    Mr. Anonymous from CO,

    There are perfectly good ways to make an argument without resorting to foul language. Your post has been edited to remove the word in question.

    That said… maybe I am cheap, but these are tough times we’re living in and most people do not have the luxury of being able to drop well over $100 for a sports event that lasts a little over a month. Judging from the feedback I received regarding this article, a lot of others feel the same way.

    I am clearly not in the broadcasting business, but I am not so simple as to not believe that NBC is a business first. They are not here for us, just our money. Of course they want to make money and I hope they make boatloads on the RWC. I just believe they would have had a better chance of doing so at a lower price point.

    I apologize if the article got you fired up to the point that you felt it acceptable to use foul language in a public forum that is open to people of all ages.

  15. John
    October 6, 2011

    I sure do miss setantas coverage of the 2007 rwc. Showed all, or most, of the games. No hd but at least got the games from one channel. Curr coverage is a joke.

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This entry was posted on August 26, 2011 by in Editorials, International Rugby, IRB, Rugby News, Rugby World Cup.

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