Rugby is the fastest-growing sport in the United States, according to Nielsen, with more than 2,600 clubs stateside. With the Rugby World Cup currently being played in France, of which Peacock has every single game, we caught up with NBC Sports to find out more details about the competition, as well as the 2031 Rugby World Cup in the United States.
Here’s our conversation with Jon Miller, President, Acquisitions & Partnerships at NBC Sports:
How the Rugby World Cup fits into the Peacock experience
Christopher Harris (CH): How does the Rugby World Cup fit into the overall portfolio of what NBC Sports and Peacock offers subscribers?
Jon Miller (JM): “It’s very consistent with our strategy of providing top-flight competition. The Rugby World Cup is the pinnacle of the sport of rugby, and rugby is arguably the third most popular sport in the world behind soccer and basketball.
“We’ve had the Rugby World Cup as part of our portfolio one way or another since 2011, but [during] the past couple of years (2019 in Japan, and 2023 in France), it’s the first time we’ve had it exclusively across the board. It fits in very nicely into that weekend morning window that the Premier League has also occupied.
“In the past, in 2019 when we had the Rugby World Cup, we offered it on NBC Sports Gold and it cost $200 to access all 48 matches. Now if you just have a basic Peacock subscription for $5.99, you’ll get all 48 matches live, which is an unbelievable value for people who like the sport.
“We have 16 of the 48 matches also live on CNBC. And then we will have the quarterfinals, semifinals, and final also airing on NBC but those will be on delay.”
Rugby’s appeal to fans of all sports
CH: You’ve watched sports from around the world. As an American, what, for you, makes a rugby game so interesting to watch?
JM: “I’ve become a rugby fan literally in the past 10-12 years. I first got introduced to it after it was announced in 2009 that it was to become an Olympic sport, so I felt that it was important that I had to make myself smarter about it.
“To introduce the sport to our viewers, we started off with six hours of rugby in 2010, and we’ve now grown it to several hundred hours of live rugby. We have the Six Nations, which is the preeminent annual competition featuring the top six countries in Europe that play every year in February and March. That’s a hugely successful property.
“We’ve also added the Autumn Internationals, which also feature a lot of country versus country events which will begin in 2024.
“Unfortunately, the US doesn’t have a team in this Rugby World Cup, but we do have a very strong Olympic USA sevens team which will be competing in Paris in 2024.
“It’s a very popular sport on college campuses. It’s becoming a much bigger sport at the middle school level as kids learn the sport.
“Not only is [rugby] a great athletic competition, but I love the respect that the players have for each other, the officials, and the rules of the game. I love the fact that while there is hard-hitting in rugby, there are far fewer injuries. When you tackle somebody, you actually have to bring them to ground. It’s not like you’re throwing a forearm like you see in [American] football. You can’t lead with your head and hit somebody… you can’t do any of that in rugby. It’s a severe penalty, and you’re sent off for that kind of bad behavior.
“More than anything, I love at the end of the game when these two teams have gone after each other for the two halves that they walk off, basically arm in arm and go grab an adult beverage of choice. There’s real camaraderie and respect among the athletes, and these rugby players that you’re seeing play are unbelievable athletes.
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“What’s really interesting for me is that American football fans, once they start watching the rugby and once they start understanding the rules, they will understand where a lot of the football rules came from. They came from rugby.”
Rugby World Cup 2031 in the USA
CH: Is there game commentary done by NBC Sports, or is it the world feed?
JM: We’re bringing the world feed in, the same group that has produced soccer for the World Cup is providing the world feed here, so it’s a very strong production.
CH: How interested would NBC Sports be to acquire the rights to the 2031 Rugby World Cup in the US?
JM: “That’s really going to be interesting. We consulted with World Rugby on the Rugby World Cup. At one point, they were asking us about 2027, and we strongly recommended against 2027 in the US because in 2028 there is the Olympics in LA, 2026 has the soccer World Cup. We also felt that US Rugby needed some runway to build up a high-performance program that they committed to. So, by 2031 when the Rugby World Cup comes to the United States, I think we’ll be much better prepared to do a good job both on the pitch with a USA competitive team, but also because American sports fans will have become more familiar with the sport by that time.
“So we’ll certainly look to be a player when those [2031 Rugby World Cup] rights become available in several years.”
Crossover for soccer fans to rugby
CH: What would you say is the crossover appeal for soccer fans who watch games on Peacock to attract them to the Rugby World Cup?
JM: “There are Premier League fans who are not necessarily rugby fans, and rugby fans who are not necessarily Premier League fans, but the one thing that the Premier League fans recognize is that the Premier League is the best of the best. It’s the single top-flight league in the world. When they’re watching a Premier League event, they’re watching the best of the best, and that’s what they want to be entertained by.
“When you’re watching the Rugby World Cup, it’s the same thing. You’re watching the people who are at the very top of the sport representing their countries in what is an amazing sport and an amazing game. You will find a lot of Europeans who follow the sport of rugby who live here who can’t wait to watch this and are almost evangelical in the way that they talk about the sport, much like Premier League fans feel the same way.
“So I do think there is that crossover.
“I think we have a real advantage here that the majority of these matches are taking place in the morning or early to mid-afternoons over in France. So they tend to be on earlier in the day so we don’t have the competition of the 4 o’clock NFL game or the 3:30 big college football game, or certainly a Big 10 Saturday night with college football.”
CH: The Rugby World Cup production is great from how they implement VAR with the referees mic’d up, as well as how good the broadcasts look.
JM: “In rugby, they don’t have rules, they have laws [of the game]. The way that the officials talk to the players, and the way that the players talk back to the officials, is an example of how a lot of other sports can learn from.”
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