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Monday, January 30, 2006


International Teams: Wallabies set to improve rugby's TV ratings

Source: Rugby Heaven

The Wallabies have been the world champions, but the sport is still struggling in Oz. When it comes to TV ratings, rugby still laggs very far behind Aussie Rules and Rugby League. Some clever scheduling may bring about a positive change for the sport.

Rugby union is in that awkward stage: it has grown large enough to want to mix it with the big boys on the Australian football scene, AFL and rugby league, but it's still small fry by comparison and struggles whenever it comes up against them, especially where TV ratings are concerned.

Here's an indication of how the three codes measure up on TV. Of the 50 top-rating sports programs in Australia last year, 12 were AFL, six were league and not one was rugby. Not even the Bledisloe Cup, an event which is sold out within hours in Sydney, made the list.

On the other hand, rugby has something the other two don't have: a truly international dimension. So what if a top-drawer rugby international could be staged at a time it didn't have to compete with AFL or league?

Mightn't large numbers of patriotic sports fans around the country tune in just to support the green and gold?

Trial with Sunday test v England

We'll probably know one way or another in a few months. In one of its more interesting scheduling initiatives of recent times, the Australian Rugby Union seems likely to stage the year's first Test, against England at Telstra Stadium, on a Sunday evening, June 11.

Why Sunday? Because the ARU wants to expose the game on TV in the southern states without the competition of a Saturday night AFL match, and June 11 would be a particularly good day to do it. For one thing, there's a public holiday next day, so people would be more inclined to relax in front of the TV that evening. For another, England is one opponent all Australians, including those who know next to nothing about rugby, would like to see get beaten.

Assuming the Sunday night match goes ahead (this is likely to be confirmed in the next week or two), Seven will provide a live, nationwide telecast. While big audiences are assured in Sydney, Brisbane and probably Perth, Seven will watch closely to see the response in Melbourne and Adelaide. If it's good, Sunday night rugby internationals might become regular fixtures.

Rugby has been occupying the minds of TV executives for another reason lately: the contest for rights to next year's World Cup. While everyone waits to hear officially who's won them in Australia, the expectation within the television industry is that it will be some kind of partnership between the Nine network and Fox Sports.

Break in tradition

If so, it would be quite a break in tradition for Nine. Kerry Packer apparently had no taste for rugby, and Nine has shown little or no interest in the game until now. According to one source, Nine did televise club matches in Brisbane for some reason in the 1970s, but nobody can remember the network ever covering representative rugby.

The asking price for the World Cup rights was fairly steep - close to US10 million ($13.2m). Production expenses would be on top of that, raising the total cost to Australia's World Cup broadcaster to perhaps $15m.

This seems a lot of money to pay for a tournament that will probably be screened here between 11pm and 5am. So why might Nine want to be involved? The best explanation is that Fox Sports, which is half-owned by Nine, would be the major partner in the deal and that Nine would effectively be picking up the free-to-air matches on the side. There may well be only a handful of these; Australia's games plus the finals.

Nine is not entirely without rugby connections. John Alexander - chief executive of PBL, which controls the network - is a rugby fan. At last report, too, Nine's head of sport in Brisbane was former Wallabies captain Andrew Slack, whose team's performances on the grand slam tour of Britain and Ireland in 1984 generated the popularity on which, arguably, the code's subsequent rapid growth has been based.
Article by Philip Derriman, Rugby Heaven.

How anybody can be a fan of those other versions of THE GAME beats me!
Not to mention American football.
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