NBC Strikes Deal With IRB For Coverage of the Rugby World Cup

Ted HardyContributor IJune 17, 2010

In a very positive development for the sport of rugby 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.

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.

High production values and enhancements are two features that have sadly lacked in International rugby broadcasts. Universal Sports' and NBC Sports' production and analysis will likely trump other rugby productions with their flair, experience, and production values to rugby.

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"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 public has been left in the dark regarding the spectacle of the Rugby World Cup. Past World Cup coverage has been relegated to broadcast on pay-per-view channels such as Setanta Sports and far from the eyes of the majority of the American sporting market.

The deal with NBC Sports, Universal Sports, and the IRB will change that and open up the Rugby World Cup to an even larger viewing audience than ever before.

The 2011 Rugby World Cup begins next year on Sept. 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 Rugby World Cup in 1987, while South Africa comes into the tournament as 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 first ever Collegiate Sevens Championship came in with better than expected numbers. More importantly, the Collegiate Sevens Championship television ratings were better than more established sporting events from the same weekend. Most notably, the NCAA Lacrosse Championship, which has been running since 1971, enjoys prominent coverage on ESPN as well as NCAA backing.

The dawn of a new day for rugby in America is coming.

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