NBC and World Rugby sign off on record rights deal running to 2023
By Jonathan Rest
NBC Sports Group, the Comcast-owned US broadcaster, has strengthened its position as the home of international rugby union in USA after concluding a new and exclusive seven-year deal with World Rugby, the sport's governing body.
NBC, which televised the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups, was already slated to stage the 2019 edition in Japan, but has now extended that agreement to include the as-yet-unallocated 2023 tournament.
World Rugby said the contract was "the biggest of its kind for rugby rights in USA."
Sportcal understands it is worth an eight-figure sum, which includes a revenue profit sharing element.
The contract was negotiated by both World Rugby and IMG, its commercial sales agent.
As well as the prestigious men's World Cups, included in the contract is the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2017 and 2021, the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco and the 2022 edition, and the annual World Rugby U20 Championship between 2017 and 2023.
The 2023 Rugby World Cup will be staged in France, South Africa or Ireland, with the announcement of the host country due in November.
NBC Sports said matches will likely air on the main NBC channel, as well as cable offering NBC Sports Network, The Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, the linear channel to be launched by NBC, the International Olympic Committee and the US Olympic Committee later this year, NBCSports.com, and NBC Sports Gold, its direct-to-consumer product.
At the 2015 Rugby World Cup, NBC showed USA's matches live for the first time, and a significant commitment to free-to-air coverage was key to this renewal.
All rugby sevens events will be carried on the Olympic Channel.
Bill Beaumont, chairman of World Rugby, said: “The USA is one of the fastest-growing markets for rugby participation and fan growth and this exciting and unprecedented deal with one of the world’s most prestigious broadcasters will ensure that more people than ever before in the USA will be able to access the world’s top men’s and women’s 15s and sevens events.”
Brett Gosper, the federation's chief executive, added: “This deal represents a significant uplift on previous deals in the US, reflecting the ever-increasing stature of rugby within what is arguably the most competitive commercial marketplace for sport.”
NBC, which already shows the annual HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, is coming to the end of the first year of a three-season deal to televise English rugby union's top-tier Aviva Premiership. NBCSN has shown more than 20 regularly-scheduled game of the week programmes, while as many as 50 other Aviva Premiership matches have been streamed on NBC Sports Live Extra.
Last week, it was revealed that Newcastle Falcons and Saracens will contest a regular season Premiership game in Philadelphia this September, which will be televised by NBC.
Meanwhile, World Rugby, Asia Rugby and the Japan Rugby Football Union have launched an ambitious plan to get one million new participants into the sport in Asia off the back of the 2019 World Cup in Japan, the first to be staged on the continent.
The 'Impact Beyond 2019' programme, announced at the Asia Rugby General Assembly in Mongolia, focuses on four key pillars: 200,000 active players in Japan; one million across Asia and two million by 2020; 40 million viewers of rugby matches on all platforms in Asia by making the sport more widely available; and maximise the impact of the 2019 World Cup to grow the game globally to 11 million players by 2020.
World Rugby said that since Japan was awarded the World Cup in 2009, playing numbers across the Asia have risen from 356,000 to 562,000 (by year-end 2016).
Beaumont said: “A truly sustainable legacy should be a central thought, not an afterthought when it comes to major event planning and the Impact Beyond 2019 programme sets out exciting participation, coaching, administrative and fan-engagement targets for the world’s most populous region by the time it hosts its first Rugby World Cup in 2019. It also provides the roadmap and resources to make those targets achievable.
“Impact Beyond has been at the very heart of that growth strategy, with tangible successes at Rugby World Cup 2015 and Rio 2016 and through this project, World Rugby is committed to providing unions with a solid foundation for sustainable growth at all levels of the game through funding, development and high performance support.”