Last fall the IOC voted to put Rugby back on the Olympic program. The 7s version of the game will make its first appearance 6 years from now in Rio. But fans won’t have to wait 6 years to see the sport on TV as this weekend as an event billed as the “Rugby 7s Collegiate Championship Invitational” is being broadcast live on NBC this Saturday and Sunday (2:00 – 4:00 PM Eastern time)
There are a few interesting data points to take away from this event as USA Team Handball strives to get coverage in the U.S. First off, this event isn’t being organized by the USA Rugby Federation. Instead, a private company, USA 7s LLC, is organizing this event and there is only a loose tie to USA Rugby. USA 7s LLC has essentially purchased the marketing rights for the 7 player game while USA Rugby focuses on the more familiar 15 player game.
Using college brands, the Olympic connection and marketing knowhow USA 7s somehow got NBC to broadcast this event. And on the very same weekend the U.S. National Team is playing one of its rare home games against Russia with the broadcast limited to Fox Sports Rocky Mtn and the internet. Ticket sales for the collegiate event are also expected to best the International match.
In terms of which event I would rather watch on TV it’s a no-brainer. I find the 15 player game to be more entertaining. The U.S. is getting better and there are several professional players now on the U.S. roster. The collegiate event is strictly a made for TV event. Rugby 7s is not played as much as Rugby 15s in college and with a college all star event taking place the same weekend many of the top players aren’t available. But it isn’t about what I want to watch. It’s about marketing and the college brand.
I did watch a little of the event today and I have to say that the production value was pretty good. With it being a quiet Saturday in June there were probably several casual fans who stumbled upon the broadcast. And surely some of those fans are now inquiring about playing the game with dreams of Olympic glory. I couldn’t also help but think about a similar Team Handball event coming to NBC at some point. College teams start gearing up. It could happen sooner than you think.
Rugby Collegiate Championship website: http://www.usasevenscci.com/
USA 7s website: http://www.usasevens.com/
Gainline Rugby Blog: Collegiate 7s Championship a marketing success: http://www.gainline.us/gainline/2010/06/collegiate-7s-championship-a-marketing-success.html
GoffonRugby: Why College 7s is Important: http://www.rugbymag.com/features/goffonrugby/goff-on-rugby-why-college-7s-is-important.aspx
USA Today (4 Jun 10): Rugby gets moment in sun: http://www.usatoday.com/SPORTS/usaedition/2010-06-04-rugby04_ST_U.htm