Collin Giuliani

Collin Giuliani: For Rugby in America, Final’s TV Showing is a Start

Collin Giuliani: For Rugby in America, Final’s TV Showing is a Start

For those who have read my previous editions of 2 for 3K, you know that I’m frustrated with the way that rugby is being covered in the United States. This is not a 2 for 3K, because this post is so extensive that it runs for nearly 4,000 words. As a summary of what happened this year – if you wanted to watch the Rugby World Cup, you had to spend $200 for the entire tournament, or $35 for an individual match. It’s not how you grow the sport whatsoever, and it ensured that this huge tournament (which happened to be in an ideal time zone for the USA, so talk about a blown opportunity) would get no coverage. Heck, the Cricket World Cup got more coverage on SportsCenter than the Rugby World Cup… and the USA wasn’t even in that, and Americans have no interest in cricket whatsoever (personally, I’m a huge fan of T20 cricket, and I’ve been watching the Caribbean Premier League as a St. Kitts and Nevis Patriots fan; however, I think that test cricket is far too long and will never catch on in the United States).

By Collin Giuliani – Lead NFL Writer – @CollinGiuliani

And then, something magical happened. NBC actually decided to air the final of the Rugby World Cup live. Granted, it was only announced two days beforehand, but still, the match between Australia and New Zealand was aired live in America at noon. The TV ratings haven’t come in yet, and I don’t know what they will be like (although the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final averaged approximately 836,000 viewers). A part of me thinks they could be up because of the time zone and the great matchup (American rugby fans know of New Zealand because the USA played a match against the All Blacks last year on NBC), and because rugby popularity has increased in the last four years (and my guess is that you’ll see it explode after the 2016 Olympics; not explode in the sense that it becomes one of the most popular sports in the country, but explode in the sense that its popularity rises dramatically and that a professional league might finally get off the ground), so I’m hoping for the best.

I tuned in for all 80 minutes of the match, and I enjoyed it. Personally, I’m more of a 7s fan than a 15s fan (more action, and it doesn’t help that one time, when the United States played Uruguay and I watched, there was no forward moment for about ten minutes; it’s a bit slow for me, but I still enjoy it), but I love the sport and hope that it grows. Again, this is the American perspective on the sport, and it’s probably similar to what Europeans are feeling about American football right now. I don’t know the players (except for some 7s players on the USA team such as Carlin Isles and Perry Baker), and I know about 95% of what is going on (I’m not confused when watching rugby matches, which is a lot more than I could say five years ago). I’m at the point that I know enough about the sport that I can question a referee’s decision logically.

Did the result of the match surprise me? Not in the slightest. Maybe it’s because the USA isn’t a great rugby team, but when I saw the All Blacks take on the Eagles, it was like watching Alabama take on an FCS school. It was a well-oiled machine that just dominated from the first moment of the game. Australia kept it close until the very end, but, in reality, there’s no way that the Aussies would’ve gotten back into the game if it wasn’t for the yellow card picked up by New Zealand. Give credit to the Aussies for making the most of that opportunity and scoring two tries in that timespan, but it was too little, too late. I’d give the game a solid B; the result was never in doubt, but I was thoroughly entertained, and considering the fact that nobody got to watch any games besides that one, it was nice to see some rugby.

Why am I writing this article, then? I’m not writing to recap the event or the final match; for one, I don’t know enough about the players to do that. Secondly, that was the only match of the tournament I saw due to the broadcasting restrictions. And finally, you’ve probably already seen quite a few articles recapping the match and the tournament.

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However, I’m here to offer a solution to NBC. This year’s coverage of the tournament in America was pitiful; when your own country is playing and there’s no coverage at all, it’s embarrassing. Again, the Cricket World Cup had a cheaper package to buy and got more coverage in the United States than the Rugby World Cup, despite the fact that the USA wasn’t even in the Cricket World Cup and the fact that was held in Australia and New Zealand (so the time zone was off balance). There’s no point in saying what NBC could’ve done with this Rugby World Cup because, in reality, they could’ve done a lot more, and saying what they could’ve done isn’t going to change anything.

This is about finding a solution. Here’s what NBC should do for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. If you want the sport to grow, there are two factors that come into play: a video game and television rights. There’s a reason the Premier League has exploded in popularity in the past few years on NBC, and that’s because when NBC bought the rights, they allowed people to watch every single game. They put billboards up in New York City, they had tons of advertisements on television (with the best one being the Ted Lasso series), they were innovative (especially with the addition of the critically-acclaimed Men in Blazers), and they took the sport seriously. If you give any sport a proper chance, just like NBC did with the Premier League, then it can grow in popularity. There’s a reason why ratings for the Premier League have doubled in the past few years, and there’s a reason why a person who had no affiliation to any soccer team whatsoever became a diehard Fulham fan overnight (regretfully so, but at least Kit Symons has this team finally looking good and competing for a playoff spot).

Obviously, NBC can’t do anything about the video game portion, but if a quality rugby video game was actually put out, you’d be surprised how fast the sport would grow. FIFA is a huge reason as to why soccer in the United States is growing rapidly, and it’s up with Madden as the most popular sporting game in the USA, something which would have been unthinkable a decade ago. When IGN gives Rugby World Cup 2015 a 1.5 out of 10, when the game gets universally panned across the board, and when the game has glitches left and right at a very expensive price (considering the fact that it is a novelty sport and there are no licenses in the game), you know it’s a recipe for disaster. I played Rugby World Cup 2011; that game got mixed reviews (more negative than positive), but the price was only $20, and it had a fair amount of modes and some replay value. How they managed to take ten thousand steps backwards with this game (which I haven’t played, but I’ve seen footage of), I don’t know. However, the point is that if a quality game comes out (like Rugby Sevens 2K16), you’d be surprised how fast the sport would catch on; the easiest way to learn about the rules to a new sport is to just play the video game of it.

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Getting back to the main point, though, it’s all about television. How can NBC televise the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan better? How can they actually treat the American audiences with the respect that they deserve (so that when the day finally comes that the Rugby World Cup comes to the United States, because that’s going to happen in the next twenty years, audiences are actually engaged)?

Oddly enough, the time zone of Japan may actually help NBC in their coverage. I’m not saying that NBC couldn’t have found a way to show their games on any of their networks this year, but when the time zone is favorable for a novelty sport, it can have its drawbacks. How would NBC find time to air games against college football and the Premier League? Sure, they may have been able to find some way, and they definitely should’ve televised in some fashion all USA games, but it’s tough when there’s competition. When the games are taking place in a country where the sun has set when the sun in the United States is still rising, there’s little to no competition in terms of what the networks have to show. Airing a Rugby World Cup game against figure skating (which actually has a market here, since it’s consistently the highest rated sport of the Olympics) or a Premier League game would raise a few eyebrows. Airing a Rugby World Cup game against paid programming or an auto show re-run? I’m not saying you’ll get ratings at 2:00 in the morning, but you’ll definitely get higher ratings than that re-run will.

All games at this past Rugby World Cup were played between 12:00 and 20:00 (8:00 PM) in England. Assuming that’s the case for the 2019 World Cup, that means that games would be played between 10:00 PM and 6:00 AM, with the latest possible game ending at 8:00 in the morning EST. Here’s an NBC schedule from that time span for Tuesday, November 3. At 10:00 is an episode of Blindspot, followed by the news and then The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. After Jimmy Fallon’s show, you’ve got Late Night with Seth Meyers and Last Call With Carson Daly. I’m not saying to take the late night comedians off, because they get ratings (I’ve never seen Carson Daly’s show, but Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers are hysterical). After Carson Daly, though, it’s re-runs from 2:00-4:00, starting with The Meredith Vieira Show and Steve Harvey. At 4:00 in the morning begins the first news program of the new day, but there’s a two-hour time slot where you’ve got re-runs. If you start a game at 2:00 in the morning in America, it would be a 4:00 PM start in Japan (16:00). Obviously, they won’t schedule the tournament around America, but a 16:00 start is highly reasonable. Any game with a 16:00 start can easily be shown live on NBC.

For weekend games, the schedule clears up considerably. Let’s take the Saturday-Sunday overnight stretch. Obviously, Saturday Night Live is staying (and it’s gotten considerably funnier this season compared to previous years, although I still think that the next episode with Donald Trump will be a disaster). You’re not bumping SNL for a rugby match between Tonga and Namibia. However, after SNL, you could easily lead in with a live sporting event, because the rest of the events are just paid programming. After this Saturday’s edition of Saturday Night Live, here is what is being aired on NBC: Rizzoli & Isles, 1st Look, OpenHouse NYC, Make $$ in Real Estate Locally, Hiring America, paid programming, US Doctors TV: America’s Joint Doctor Reveals Joint Relief Secrets, and paid programming. From 1:00-6:00 (because 6:00 starts the news), you’ve got absolutely nothing. Any game that starts between 13:00-18:00 (or even 19:00, and you can bump the news to a 7:00 AM start) in Japan can be shown on the main network, NBC. There’s no reason why this can’t be done. Again, rugby isn’t a huge sport in America right now, but I can guarantee you that any Rugby World Cup match will get more ratings than US Doctors TV: America’s Joint Doctor Reveals Joint Relief Secrets. A live sporting event versus a paid programming ad sounds like a no-brainer, both in terms of what will draw higher ratings and what more people will want to see. More people would rather see the sporting version of real people, real results than the advertising version of real people, real results, if you know what I mean.

Rugby isn’t at the point where they can bump other things for their events. You take what you can get. Rugby isn’t bumping out a late night show like, let’s say, football or even soccer could. However, it can bump out paid programming; playing at this time, even though it is incredibly inconvenient for Americans (and these next few years, with the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Asia (if you consider Russia to be part of Asia), the 2019 FIBA World Cup, the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and the 2018, 2020 and 2022 Olympics, are going to be inconvenient, as all of those events will be in Asia), is actually good for a network like NBC, because it gives an avenue to televise the games with no competition.

Keep in mind, that’s just on NBC. There’s also NBC Sports Network; it’s not a channel that everyone gets (NBC is a channel that doesn’t require a cable subscription), but it’s a channel that if you have cable, you likely have it. The Premier League airs tons of games on that channel, and if NBC decides to go all-out with the Rugby World Cup, they could do the same as well. Remember that games are airing between 10:00 PM and 6:00 AM, assuming recent trends hold. For the Monday-Tuesday overnight shift in that timeslot, here’s what’s on television: Battle of the Bluegrass Pulling Series, Premier League World, The Men in Blazers Show, Premier League Manchester Mondays, The Men in Blazers Show, World of Adventure Sports, some sort of country music programming titled Johnny Cash, Hank Williams & George Jones, Hee Haw, some sort of love song programming titled John Denver, Louis Armstrong & Nat King Cole, paid programming, and Try Total Gym for $14.95. You’re not bumping Jimmy Fallon for rugby… but you can easily bump a country music program on a sports network for, you know, an actual sporting event. There are some days where NBC Sports Network has hockey games that air until 11:00, but clearly, unless that’s going on, there’s nothing else happening. Rugby can easily overtake that.

On the weekends, the schedule is still pretty dire. The Saturday-Sunday overnight schedule looks like this (which, again, is pretty typical): boxing, Premier League Match of the Day, boxing, and then paid programming from 3:00-6:00. Keep in mind that the second boxing one at 1:00 is a re-run of the one from 9:00-11:00. Let’s say you keep the first boxing match and the Premier League show; that still leaves five hours of programming available at your disposal. Heck, you could even dump Premier League Match of the Day, considering the fact that by the time you’re watching, the games of the day are more than fifteen hours old, and because in America, you’re actually able to watch every game live (I’ll dive more into that later how bad England has it when it comes to watching the Premier League, and I’ll offer a reasonable solution).

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For most sports and programs, having to air games at these time slots would be the death knell and would be a curse. For rugby, though, it’s a blessing in disguise, as NBC literally has no other options if they want to show a live sporting event. It gives the sport a platform to televise their games. Let’s assume that the 2015 Rugby World Cup was played under the time zones of the 2019 World Cup (so all matchups are the same, but the 12:00 games were shown at 22:00, and the 20:00 games were shown at 6:00). How would a televised schedule of the tournament look?

Day 1 (Friday, 9/18): England vs. Fiji (not televised)- 6:00 AM
Day 2 (Saturday, 9/19): Tonga vs. Georgia (not televised)- 10:00 PM
Ireland vs. Canada (NBC Sports Network on 30-minute tape delay)- 12:30 AM
South Africa vs. Japan (NBC)- 2:45 AM
France vs. Italy (not televised)- 6:00 AM
Day 3 (Sunday, 9/20): Samoa vs. United States (NBC Sports Network)- 10:00 PM
Wales vs. Uruguay (NBC Sports Network on 30-minute tape delay)- 12:30 AM
New Zealand vs. Argentina (NBC Sports Network)- 2:45 AM
Day 4 (Wednesday, 9/23): Scotland vs. Japan (NBC Sports Network)- 12:30 AM
Australia vs. Fiji (NBC Sports Network)- 2:45 AM
France vs. Romania (not televised)- 6:00 AM
Day 5 (Thursday, 9/24): New Zealand vs. Namibia (not televised)- 6:00 AM
Day 6 (Friday, 9/25): Argentina vs. Georgia (NBC)- 2:45 AM
Day 7 (Saturday, 9/26): Italy vs. Canada (NBC Sports Network on 30-minute tape delay)- 12:30 AM
South Africa vs. Samoa (NBC)- 2:45 AM
England vs. Wales (not televised)- 6:00 AM
Day 8 (Sunday, 9/27): Australia vs. Uruguay (not televised)- 10:00 PM
Scotland vs. United States (NBC)- 12:45 AM
Ireland vs. Romania (NBC Sports Network)- 2:45 AM
Day 9 (Tuesday, 9/29): Tonga vs. Namibia (NBC Sports Network)- 2:45 AM
Day 10 (Thursday, 10/1): Wales vs. Fiji (NBC Sports Network)- 2:45 AM
France vs. Canada (not televised)- 6:00 AM
Day 11 (Friday, 10/2): New Zealand vs. Georgia (not televised)- 6:00 AM
Day 12 (Saturday, 10/3): Samoa vs. Japan (NBC Sports Network on 30-minute tape delay)- 12:30 AM
South Africa vs. Scotland (NBC)- 2:45 AM
England vs. Australia (not televised)- 6:00 AM
Day 13 (Sunday, 10/4): Argentina vs. Tonga (NBC)- 12:30 AM
Ireland vs. Italy (NBC Sports Network)- 2:45 AM
Day 14 (Tuesday, 10/6): Canada vs. Romania (NBC Sports Network)- 2:45 AM
Fiji vs. Uruguay (not televised)- 6:00 AM
Day 15 (Wednesday, 10/7): South Africa vs. United States (NBC Sports Network)- 2:45 AM
Namibia vs. Georgia (not televised)- 6:00 AM
Day 16 (Friday, 10/9): New Zealand vs. Tonga (not televised)- 6:00 AM
Day 17 (Saturday, 10/10): Samoa vs. Scotland (NBC Sports Network on 30-minute tape delay)- 12:30 AM
Australia vs. Wales (NBC)- 2:45 AM
England vs. Uruguay (not televised)- 6:00 AM
Day 18 (Sunday, 10/11): Argentina vs. Namibia (not televised)- 10:00 PM
Italy vs. Romania (NBC)- 12:30 AM
France vs. Ireland (NBC Sports Network)- 2:45 AM
United States vs. Japan (NBC Sports Network)- 6:00 AM
Day 19 (Saturday, 10/17): Quarterfinal #1 (NBC)- 2:00 AM
Quarterfinal #2 (not televised)- 6:00 AM
Day 20 (Sunday, 10/18): Quarterfinal #3 (NBC Sports Network)- 11:00 PM
Quarterfinal #4 (NBC)- 2:00 AM
Day 21 (Saturday, 10/24): Semifinal #1 (NBC)- 2:00 AM
Day 22 (Sunday, 10/25): Semifinal #2 (NBC)- 2:00 AM
Day 23 (Friday, 10/30): Bronze final (not televised)- 6:00 AM
Day 24 (Saturday, 10/31): Final (NBC)- 2:00 AM

Note that the one exception to the bumping rule is any game involving the United States. That has to be shown on television. You’re not getting the sport to grow if you don’t show games involving the Eagles; you can preempt a NASCAR show every other week for a USA game. Also note that Friday and Saturday games don’t have to worry about super early news shows, as on weekends (Friday heading into Saturday, Saturday heading into Sunday), these shows do not air until 6:00 in the morning rather than 4:00 in the morning. That being said, Friday games do have to worry about late night television. Note that listing a date is when 10:00 PM is; for example, Saturday 10/24 means that it is 10:00 PM on Saturday, and that it would be 2:00 AM on that Sunday.

Was that schedule so bad? Was any quality programming interrupted? This is a reasonable schedule as to how the 2019 World Cup could work on television in the United States. Not every game is televised, but it’s definitely a start. There’s no reason why this can’t be implemented, especially because any game that’s not being shown on television can be shown on an NBC stream that is free provided that you have a subscription to NBC Sports Network (which is how it works for the Premier League).

Is it worth the investment? Yes. What NBC will realize after the 2016 Olympics (which they, unfortunately, have the television rights to) is that rugby sevens is growing and is going to become popular soon. Heck, the USA Sevens even won a tournament in England last year, and Mike Friday has the Eagles competing at a surprisingly high level to the point where they may be one of the six best sevens teams in the world. If the USA does well in 2016 and there’s an interest in the sport that begins to form (because it doesn’t matter what sport it is; everyone tunes in when it involves the United States, even if it’s on tape delay), then NBC may realize the potential of this sport and begin to televise more 7s games. Then, to promote the 2020 Olympics and to get more of an interest, the network can show games from the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Basically, it would probably result in an initial loss of money to set up some sort of production studio (even if it’s not in Japan, and instead, it’s just in New York City), but the end result would be good (and remember this- the 2020 Olympics are also in Japan, so there is something to be said about the same country hosting the Rugby World Cup and Olympics in less than a year).

Enough of the $200 streams that don’t work and that defeat the purpose of growing the sport. Enough of making this sport completely inaccessible to anyone in the country, especially because this sport actually has popularity (as evidenced by the sold out Soldier Field that watched the USA take on New Zealand last year). It’s time that NBC actually makes an effort in broadcasting these games. Showing the final between Australia and New Zealand was a start. Now, it’s time to actually show the entire tournament and give one of the biggest tournaments in the world some respect. With the 2019 World Cup in Japan, every opportunity is there to take advantage of television rights. Take advantage of it. An untapped market of over 300 million people is counting on it.

Collin Giuliani

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