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GoffonRugby: Rugby on TV

Monday Jul 6, 2009 in Columns GoffonRugby

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A couple of notes about the USA v. Canada test match on ESPN. It was a big day for American rugby as the top sports network in the country showed a rugby test live.

It would have been nice if it had been a better, more fluid game, but more important than that was the fact that the USA won. If you’re selling the American rugby fan on rugby, it really helps if the USA wins a few.

So you had the USA winning an international rugby game, live, on ESPN. Not bad.

The attempts to show and describe what the ruck and scrum were about were rushed, but much, much better than I’ve seen in other broad-based TV rugby coverage.

What about that “I am a rugby ball” bit? I thought it was cute. It did a decent job introducing the game and was kind of fun.

Remember the previous intro to rugby bit on ESPN Classic: “I play rugby.” That ran during the Wales test, and was an idea that didn’t quite come off. All the players who were used are a lot more animated and interesting than they looked in that intro. In addition, the “I play rugby” and why bit would be better if they changed the reasons players play, rather than having them all repeating themselves.

Anyway, back to now. There will be no repeat ESPN (or TSN in Canada) broadcast of the second leg of the two-game series. That is because Rugby Canada chose not to spend the money required to get the game on TV. They have the rights and could do it, but will instead produce a webcast. It’s a short-sighted decision from Rugby Canada, but seeing as everyone is hurting financially these days, that might be the reason.

Speaking of spending money, should USA Rugby ask for a partial rebate because the game was moved to ESPN2 halfway through? It’s likely fans who recorded the game and came home only to find they just got the first half.

It’s a delicate question, but it’s worth asking – should ESPN really have moved the game to another network? If they wanted to do a full hour on former NFL MVP Steve McNair’s death, couldn’t they have done that on ESPN2?

It gets you started wondering – how famous does the athletes have to be, and what profile is the event you’re showing, to move the event?

Maybe it would have happened for any sport and we’re just wallowing in our own rugby inferiority complex here, but I doubt it. More likely, there are contractual obligations involved and the contract between USA Rugby and ESPN didn’t preclude the network moving the game.

(This writer complained about the moving of the game to his brother, who said, simply, “you get ESPN2, though, don’t you?”)

Next step for television is some context. Can we have enough coverage of rugby – on SportsCenter or ESPN News – and more regular coverage of games to provide fans with an idea of what this game or that game means. Once again we come back to the two-game qualification series. If Game Two were on TV as well, then they’d get that payoff. As it is, it’s unlikely there will be any usable highlights for ESPN to show.

- A GoffonRugby Opinion Column by Alex Goff

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