World Rugby has landed its most lucrative ever US rights deal after announcing a multi-year partnership with NBC.
The seven-year contract will see NBC hold the exclusive US broadcast rights for the world’s biggest international rugby events, including the Rugby World Cup and Women’s Rugby World Cup.
NBC’s decision to acquire the rights positions it as the home of rugby in the US, where the sport has enjoyed a significant growing spurt in popularity since its return to the Olympics in 2014. Statistics released by the Sports Fitness Industry Association in April 2016 claimed that rugby was the country’s fastest-growing sport, with an estimated 1.2 million participants.
USA Rugby chief executive, Dan Payne, last year attributed the emergence of youth and high school programmes as a key factor to rugby’s growth in the US and revealed the sport was now played by over 35,000 high school athletes in the US, 10 times more than a decade ago.
The new broadcast deal includes the Rugby World Cup 2019 and 2023 and Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 and 2021 as well as the annual World Rugby U20 Championship from 2017-23.
As part of the agreement NBC will also hold the rights to the sevens events, a version of the sport which has proven popular with US audiences, particularly with NFL players such as New England Patriots star Nate Ebner featuring in the Olympic squad at Rio in 2016.
World Rugby chief executive, Brett Gosper, said: “This deal represents a significant uplift on previous deals in the US, reflecting the ever-increasing stature of rugby within what is arguably the most competitive commercial marketplace for sport. This all-encompassing deal with our friends at NBC is great for fans and great for rugby as we look towards San Francisco’s hosting of Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2018.”
The growing popularity of rugby in the US has led USA Rugby to rack up sponsorship deals with major commercial players within the sport, including Adidas, Emirates and AIG.