The World Rugby international governing body has today (August 25) launched the sport’s first-ever global streaming platform ahead of the upcoming 2023 men's Rugby World Cup in France which it claims will be “the most widely accessible rugby event ever.”
RugbyPass TV has officially been rolled out worldwide today as a free-to-air (FTA) service and will feature a mix of live coverage, archive content, and exclusive original programming.
The platform was created in partnership with Endeavor Streaming, a subsidiary of the international entertainment agency giant, and will be hosted on its Vesper platform.
The service will aggregate events into one place with coverage to include the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups, the new women’s WXV competition, and the relaunched top-tier rugby sevens series (rebranded as SVNS) with exclusive behind-the-scenes, documentary, and feature content produced by the federation’s World Rugby Studios arm.
Live coverage will kick off with the 2023 Rugby World Cup on September 8, with the 10th edition of the flagship tournament to be shown by the platform in nations where broadcast deals do not exist or where rightsholders are not showing all matches live.
Speaking to GlobalData Sport, James Roswell, World Rugby chief marketing and content officer, said: “This has been on the roadmap for World Rugby for several years.
“Providing fans with global access and having a centralized base to bring live rights together with our archive and original programming has been something we've wanted to do for a while.
“The acquisition of RugbyPass and now going into a World Cup just felt like the perfect time to do it.”
World Rugby acquired OTT digital media platform RugbyPass as part of a media rights deal with pay-television broadcaster Sky New Zealand in 2022 as its first step to entering the streaming world.
Despite the rise of streaming in recent years, rugby as a sport has been relatively late to jump on the bandwagon and secure an established presence in the space.
However, rugby union’s global federation believes the forthcoming period, with SVNS and WXV following the World Cup this year, provided the ideal opportunity to deliver an all-encompassing streaming product.
Rothwell said: “While several other sports have done a good job of consolidating their content offering in over-the-top (OTT), that doesn't yet exist in rugby and we're just about to launch into what will be the biggest World Cup of all time in terms of eyeballs, engagement, attention, social interaction, and new audiences coming into the sport.
“With the eyes of the world watching us, we really see this as an opportunity to launch a platform at scale. Not just from a media and attention perspective, we'll be tapping into marketing inventory in-stadia across our digital estate for a number of our partners during the tournament.
“For us to be able to livestream all our matches into huge opportunity markets – like China, for example – is really exciting for us, so we’ve really got the wind behind us in terms of the live rights.
“While rugby is probably later to streaming than other sports, we've always seen this six-month window as a brilliant time to launch at scale with great live content and original programming when we have the spotlight of global attention on us.”
As well as its live offering, World Rugby has placed a significant focus on providing a raft of non-live content to maintain fan engagement throughout the year outside of competitions.
RugbyPass TV will be home to every available men’s and women’s Rugby World Cup match recorded on camera, totaling more than 10,000 hours of archive content. The entire archive will be available to fans for the first time ever, featuring full-match replays, highlights, tries, and iconic moments.
World Rugby said the platform will also include “never seen before” content and documentaries.
Rothwell explained: “We've spent the last six months really focusing on our original programming. A major focus for the team is to make rugby more relevant and accessible to generate more evergreen attention to make sure that we sustain engagement with fans 365 days a year.
“Storytelling, access to players, and telling the story around the game is going to be a critical component of that. We're launching with a robust slate of more than 100 hours of original programming which is going to entertain the fans to a huge extent during the tournament.”
For the 2023 World Cup, World Rugby has broadcast deals in over 180 countries but not all broadcasters will show all 48 games – only in China and some countries in Southeast Asia and Latin America.
In most countries, including some very established media and rugby markets, rightsholders will not carry all matches, which will give World Rugby the provision of rights to livestream on RugbyPass TV.
Although streaming services continue to pose a threat to linear broadcasters, Rothwell insists the global governing body has no plans to ditch traditional deals with mainstream operators and bring live rights in-house, in the future.
He said: “Broadcast will remain such a critical part of our strategy and is an incredible platform for rugby. It has helped to grow the sport and engage fans at scale, and they will continue to be a major part of our business.
“Firstly, it gives us a mainstream distribution of the sport and secondly, from a storytelling and promotion perspective, broadcast is incredibly important, and we have long-held relationships with broadcasters that have helped to shape and grow the game over the last 30 years.
“What we want to do as the global federation for the game is to make the sport as accessible as possible. The role of RugbyPass TV will be to ensure that the same level of access and promotion is available in every country in the world.
“It will be a great springboard for us to launch new competitions like WXV and SVNS. We really see live as one of the big content pillars.”
RugbyPass TV will be a free service but will operate behind a sign-up wall, with fans needing to create accounts to access the content.
Rothwell said that this allows World Rugby to provide personalized content for fans and a wider offering of its digital service.
As with most free streaming platforms, the federation will seek to generate revenue through advertising.
Rothwell said: “Shortly after the World Cup, it will become ad-supported. We see that as an opportunity to build out our digital estate, promote other things happening around rugby, and create additional commercial opportunities for our partners.
“If we achieve scaling distribution on the platform, the advertising business will be material for us, and we've seen that play out across a number of different content businesses over the last 10 years.
“As we continue to increase the number of products in our portfolio, whether that's new competitions like WXV or new business lines like retail and merchandise, having direct access to rugby fans that want more from us as World Rugby is incredibly valuable.
“Learning more about our fan base and being able to talk to them in different ways will be increasingly valuable over time. From a commercial perspective, we're really excited about the advertising opportunity. But we see RugbyPass TV as a key lever across the pool as we're growing our broader digital ecosystem.”
The newly developed match center and editorial hub on RugbyPass.com will also provide fans with more data and statistics, while a new Fantasy Rugby offering on the RWC 2023 mobile app is the organization’s first venture into gaming.
The content on the RugbyPass TV platform will “continue to grow and evolve in 2024, providing fresh, globally relevant as well as localized content across the year.”