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Volume 23 No. 24
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NBC to carry games from English rugby league

English rugby clubs Saracens and Wasps may not be as popular as Manchester United and Arsenal in the United States. But NBC Sports Group executives are betting that the 12 rugby clubs that make up England’s Aviva Premiership Rugby league will find a passionate U.S. audience next year.

Last week, NBC signed a deal to carry a minimum of 25 games on NBCSN starting in the fall and stream another 50 or so matches via NBC Sports Live Extra. Deal terms were not announced, but the deal runs for multiple years and involves a rights fee on top of acquisition costs. NBC has all linear TV and digital rights in the United States.

Wasps and Saracens are two of the 12 clubs in England’s Aviva Premiership Rugby league.
“We know that there is a passionate fan base for rugby over here,” said Jon Miller, NBC Sports programming president.

NBC plans to slot the rugby matches on NBCSN after its EPL games on weekend mornings. The rugby matches will fill in for the EPL on the weekends that the soccer league does not schedule games. No games currently are scheduled to appear on the broadcast network, but Miller said it’s not out of the question that NBC would move some, depending on schedules.

NBC plans to build a rugby studio in its Stamford, Conn., headquarters and eventually plans to produce shoulder programming around it.

Miller said the fact that NBC holds Olympic rights played no role in this deal even though rugby returns to the Olympics this year for the first time since 1924.

“It’s a completely different game,” he said, pointing out that Olympic rugby has seven players per side, while Premiership rugby has 15 players per side. “This is more about getting a sport with a long, rich history and exposing it to a U.S. audience.”

Miller pointed out that the deal fits in with NBC’s portfolio of international rights, which include the EPL and Formula One racing. This summer, NBC will carry the British Open for the first time.

The deal took around six to eight months to complete. The cable channel BBC America previously held the league’s U.S. rights.

On Saturday, NBCSN will carry the first Premiership Rugby match in the U.S. when London Irish plays Saracens from New Jersey’s Red Bull Arena.