The Rugby Union World Cup kicks off from Japan on Friday, September 20th. But even if you’re already shelling out for cable, satellite, or an internet TV service, you’ll have to spend even more to watch the defending champion New Zealand All Blacks tackle the rest of the world’s best. That’s because NBC is charging $200 to stream the tournament’s most massive matches with its Rugby World Cup Pass.
For those new to the game, the sport shares the same appeal as American football. It offers tactical field progression achieved through astonishing athleticism and astounding violence – except in a free-flowing 80-minute package. And if you’re already a soccer fan, you may already be a rugby fan as well if only through early morning exposure in English or Irish pubs. So there’s a potentially big audience for NBC to capture.
When NBC acquired the Premier League broadcast rights it had a simple strategy – if you paid for cable or satellite, then you could easily watch each and every match. That decision fueled the Premier League’s growth in this country. But over the past few years, NBC has put more and more Premier League content on its over-the-top gold tier. That compels soccer fans to pay twice – once for NBCSN and then again for NBC’s Premier League Pass. And now NBC is following a similar strategy with its rugby properties.
Here’s what’s happening:
– NBC’s Rugby World Cup Pass costs $199.99 and will let you stream all 48 matches live and on-demand. But that money won’t give you access to anything else NBC has beyond the World Cup. Not more rugby, not any soccer, nothing.
– If you’re already paying $64.99 for NBC’s Premier League Pass or $39.99 for its MatchDay Pass you will not get any discount if you sign up for rugby as well.
– If you’re a rugby fan you may already be paying $79.99 for the NBC Sports Gold Rugby Pass. That gives you access to Premiership Rugby (England’s domestic rugby union club competition), the European Rugby Champions Cup (a competition for Europe’s best clubs akin to the Champions League), and the Six Nations Championship (the world’s oldest international rugby union competition that’s contested by England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, and Italy). But this rugby pass still won’t let you stream the World Cup.
– NBC does offer a combo rugby package. For $229.99 you’ll get every Rugby World Cup match as well as season-long streaming of Premiership Rugby, the European Rugby Champions Cup, and the Six Nations Championship.
– You don’t need to buy a streaming pass to watch some of the tournament. 26 of the World Cup’s 48 games will air on NBCSN and stream on the NBC Sports app via cable or satellite subscription authentication. This includes all four of the USA’s pool games. The Eagles, ranked # 13 in the world, have choice matchups with England, France, Argentina and Tonga awaiting them.
– Team USA matches available live on NBCSN:
USA v England, Thursday, September 26th at 6:45 AM ET
USA v France, Wednesday, October 2nd at 3:35 AM ET
USA v Argentina, Wednesday, October 9th at 12:45 AM ET
USA v Tonga, Sunday, October 13th at 1:45 AM ET
– The start times aren’t ideal. Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of America’s east coast and 16 hours ahead of the west coast. While some matches will be replayed on NBCSN at a more humane hour, buying the $200 pass gives you on-demand access to all 48 of the tournament’s games.
– If you want to see rugby at its absolute best with the top-ranked teams in the world playing each other, then you’ll have to buy the $200 pass. These are just some of the blockbuster matches that only pass holders will be able to stream live:
New Zealand v South Africa, Saturday, September 21st at 5:45 AM ET
Ireland v Scotland, Sunday, September 22nd at 3:45 AM ET
Australia v Wales, Sunday, September 29th at 3:45 AM ET
England v France, Saturday, October 12th at 4:15 AM ET
– Individual matches will be available to stream for $29.99 each
– The four quarterfinal matches will be split up – two will air on NBCSN, two will be made exclusively available for the $200 pass holders to stream. Based on NBC’s decision to reserve the best pool play matches for its $200 pass holders, it’s probable that the best quarterfinal matchups will only be on the pay tier.
– As of now, the semi-finals will air with a delay on NBC. Live access to the semis will exclusively be available for $200 pass holders.
– NBCSN will air the Rugby World Cup Final live from Yokohama on Saturday, November 2nd at 5 AM Eastern. NBC will broadcast the final over the air later that day on a delay.
NBC’s spend-to-stream strategy stands in stark contrast to ESPN Plus. ESPN’s over-the-top service costs only $49.99 a year or $4.99 a month. Unlike NBC, ESPN offers all of its streaming sports properties like Italian soccer, Dutch soccer, MLS, European qualifiers, almost every college sport imaginable, tennis, cricket, lacrosse, and even rugby in an all-under-one-roof buffet. NBC makes fans pay separately, and steeply, for each of its sports streaming properties like the Premier League’s gold tier, rugby, track and field, pro lacrosse, and auto racing. The difference is that NBC has premier properties like the Premier League and the Rugby World Cup while ESPN has lesser lights like Italy’s Serie A, the Pro14 rugby club competition, and fast-paced rugby 7s.
NBC’s pricing makes sense for fans who only follow one or two sports. But it’s pay-per-play strategy makes life difficult for more curious fans who want to experience more of what the sporting world has to offer.