Where’s the Media Scrum?
By Staff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 9/9/2007 8:00:00 PM
Those of us tuning in to the Versus channel—the Yukon Territory of our cable continent—September 10 to watch the U.S. Eagles face off against England in the Rugby World Cup will already know who won. With the match having taken place on September 8, we’ll have read it somewhere, and perhaps watched a live Webcast feed.
Indeed, the match will be old news by the time it turns up on Versus. But let’s not fault the former Outdoor Life Network; without it, we probably wouldn’t even know what Eagle standouts Mike Hercus and Todd Clever look like.
This is the sad status afforded the Rugby World Cup in the United States. A true global sporting event, the 2003 competition was seen by 3.5 billion fans, says the International Rugby Board. With similar numbers this year, it will be 2007’s most-watched sports event around the world.
While DirecTV and DISH have the matches on an obscure soccer-themed tier, where, pray tell, are the sports-centric networks, like ESPN and FoxSports, as the World Cup—featuring the 20 elite national teams of the world—kicks off in France? A quick look at the schedule for ESPN and ESPN 2 over the next few days reveals they will be showing, among other things, bass fishing, NASCAR, boxing, poker and “whitetail hunting.” Maybe a Michael Vick update too?
Granted, the American rugby community is tiny. There are over 70,000 dues-paying players rucking and mauling in their free time for the nation’s 2,000-plus registered clubs, but that’s up from 50,000 ruggers five years ago. Still, with the large majority of players picking up the game at college—and with long and storied rugby histories at elite schools like Stanford, Cal, Yale and Harvard—it’s a dream demographic.
Everywhere else, its popularity is exceeded only by the FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympics. This year it is likely to produce the same dramatics seen in the thrilling 2003 overtime final between England and Australia in Sydney. We were among that billions-strong crowd, watching from a packed Greenwich Village pub at 5 in the morning, sipping Guinness with fellow true believers. It’s a shame for so popular a sport to be this relegated.
Talk of a boycott by AP, Reuters and other news agencies, to protest restrictions put on their reporters by the rugby governing body, still brews, and could hurt coverage—and PR. But the games are worth the view notwithstanding. And while France’s time zone is much more compatible than Australia’s for a New York fan, we may again find ourselves watching the action from some would-be speakeasy. It doesn’t have to be that way, if only ESPN would act like the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” it claims to be.
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