Growing Rugby

Rugby World Cup 2019

Rugby Union is the ninth most popular sport in the world, with an estimated following of 475 million people globally. Beginning in England in 1845, the game quickly spread through the UK and out to the British colonies. It is the national sport of two countries that won’t surprise you in the slightest and two countries that you probably wouldn’t guess (I’ll reveal all later).

The men’s game turned professional in 1995, yet many women who play for their national teams still hold down at least part-time jobs. It is growing and growing in popularity - in fact, in the USA it is the fastest growing sport in terms of popularity - with this year’s Rugby World Cup (just mere days away now) set to be the most-watched of all time.

So why, oh why, are the powers that be making it so hard to access this wonderful sport? Money, that’s why. I can’t be the only person in the world who believes that the best way to grow a sport is by allowing as wide an audience as possible to access it...for free.

Unless you’ve been living on another planet for the past three years, you’ll know there isn’t an awful lot to be proud of as a UK citizen at the moment. However, one thing that I will be eternally grateful for is the fact that certain sporting events are protected by Ofcom and must be broadcast live and free-to-air. This includes, but is not limited to: The Rugby World Cup; The FIFA World Cup; all England men’s and women’s international football matches; Rugby’s Six Nations Championship; Wimbledon Tennis and Formula One’s British Grand Prix.

Even Sky Sports, who have held the broadcasting rights for International Cricket matches since 2005, came to an agreement with Channel 4 over the Cricket World Cup Final, once it had been confirmed that England were to be in it so that it could be viewed by everyone across the country. Whether you have never heard of the sport before, or simply can’t afford the (often extortionate) subscription fees, broadcasting on free-to-air TV allows much greater coverage of the sport and, in my opinion, can only ever be a good thing.

Turn your attention now to the USA. As already mentioned, rugby is becoming more and more popular with our American friends. The men’s sevens team has competed in every tournament of the World Rugby Sevens Series since 2008; the women’s national team has reached the quarter-finals of every Rugby World Cup and the 2012 IRB Junior World Rugby tournament was hosted by the USA, which was deemed by Nigel Melville as “the first step to hosting...a Rugby World Cup.”

So, what’s the issue? Everything seems to be going in the right direction, right? Wrong. The issue, a massive one as far as I’m concerned, is that Americans will only be able to watch this year’s Rugby World Cup if they subscribe to NBC Sports Gold. A single match pass will cost $29.99, a pass for all 48 matches is $199.99 and a subscription that also includes the 2019-2020 Rugby Pass (with access to the Six Nations and EPRC among others) will set viewers back $229.99.

Now, if I was new to the sport and wanted to get involved but wasn’t really sure what all the fuss was about, the World Cup would be the place to begin. Showcasing the best teams in the world, up against each other in a tournament where anything could happen. But would I want to pay $29.99 for the privilege of just 80 minutes of the sport? Or even $199.99 to watch every minute of the whole tournament?

I’m not sure I’d take the risk. Of course, you could argue that rugby begins at grassroots so prospective fans should just go down to their local club and watch them play, but I honestly can’t think of a better advertisement for the sport than the World Cup and the prices just seem ridiculous to me.

Some countries, like Australia, are showing their own nation’s matches on free-to-air TV, which might be considered adequate, but not if viewers want something to be able to compare the performances to. If Australia doesn’t end up meeting New Zealand, we are denying an entire nation from watching (arguably, given current world rankings) the best team in the world.

I just don’t think it’s fair, and I don’t think it helps to promote and grow our beautiful sport.

Oh, and those countries for whom rugby is the national sport? New Zealand, Wales, Georgia and...Madagascar!

Ruck Be A Lady

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