Universal Sports Network and NBC Sports have teamed with the International Rugby Board to present national TV and digital media coverage of the next two Rugby World Cup tournaments.
Under the partnership, Universal Sports, a joint venture of NBC Universal and Leo Hindery's InterMedia Partners that currently counts some 61 million homes, and NBC will combine to televise all 48 matches in the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, as well as the 2015 tourney from England.
Two matches in each tournament, including the finals in 2011 and 2015, will air either live or on a same-day delay on NBC Sports. Live and delayed match video will also be accessible at www.universalsports.com, and on Universal Sports' mobile platforms. The networks' match coverage will feature a studio pre-game show, halftime and post-game shows, as well as several other production enhancements, and will be delivered in the high-definition format.
Although the event has yet to fully catch on in the States, the Rugby World Cup is one of the largest sporting events in the world, drawing an estimated 4.2 billion global viewers during the last championship in France in 2007, according to network officials.
The 20-team competition begins on Sept. 9, 2011, when host New Zealand meets Tonga in Auckland. The U. S. will look to qualify over the course of a month as it contends for the Webb Ellis Cup. New Zealand and Australia jointly hosted the first Rugby World Cup in 1987, while South Africa is the defending champion from 2007. That tournament was televised in the U.S. by premium channel Setanta Sports, which shuttered its U.S. operations earlier this year.
The agreement, terms of which were not disclosed, extends Universal Sports' focus on rugby, which will debut as an Olympic sport with the 2016 Summer Games from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Since the beginning of June, Universal Sports and NBC have worked with USA Rugby, televising the U.S. College Sevens Invitational and the six-country Churchill Cup tournament. The final two matches of the Churchill Cup, named for the famed British Prime Minister, will air live from Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. on Saturday June 19, kicking off at 2:30 p.m. (ET).
The competition's championship game, being held on the East Coast for the first time, features England versus Canada at 2:45 p.m., followed by the U.S. taking on France. The opening match of the Churchill Cup tripleheader at noon pits Russia against Uruguay.
"This is a very significant rights acquisition for Universal Sports, especially given the growing popularity of rugby around the world and in America," said Universal Sports CEO David Sternberg in a statement. "We are delighted to be partnering with the IRB for the Rugby World Cup and other top events, and we look forward to showcasing global rugby, at its highest level, for our audiences across all of our platforms-television, online and mobile."
"Today's announcement represents a significant milestone in the development of rugby in the United States," said
and Mike Miller, CEO and Secretary General, International Rugby Board. "NBC and Universal Sports are globally renowned for quality broadcast delivery of major sports events in the United States and their considerable experience and passion for sport will deliver the widespread platform for Rugby World Cup to truly capture the hearts and minds of American sports fans."