May 3, 2006
Some basic housekeeping here, still trying to make my way through a puzzle that keeps throwing more questions in my face than answers.
First off, a letter published in the April 2006 issue of Rugby World (see scan):
In a few short sentences Mr. Parick Taylor summizes the frustration that I have been repeatedly banging my head against a wall here, here, here, here and here.
It bears repeating: I have never seen the profile for rugby union in Canada (and the United States) at such a low level since the game went professional, and perhaps even the pre-RWC era.
Viewers here can see televised NRL (rugby league) and AFL (Aussie Rules) but no rugby union XVs -- no Super 14, no Six Nations, no Tri-Nations, no Heineken Cup -- nothing. The IRB tells us they are trying to grow the game globally, and truthfully are investing money in the lower-tier nations. I believe they are sincere, but rugby in North America has a profile that is currently non-existent. As I have said before, if it's non-existent, then it might as well be in the toilet.
For the past 15 months the FAQ page at the NZRU website allblacks.com has had the following message:
Any chance of getting rugby coverage to the USA?
We have been made aware of the fact that the Fox network no longer provides coverage of rugby matches in the US. We are looking into ways about how we can address this and will inform you of any developments on allblacks.com.
There have been no developments for 15 months. This same info for American fans applies equally to Canadian fans -- we are both shut out.
Last week the Canadian 'A' development team finished a short tour in New Zealand. The Canadian guests were rightly appreciative and complimentary to their host NZRU's efforts to forge, support and promote the sport of rugby union in Canada.
But the NZRU would be right to wonder what good their support and generosity is going to be when the sport isn't televised and has no presence in Canada.
What is the hang-up here?
If I can pick on SANZAR for a minute, according to a wikipedia entry under the category "Super 14":
In September 2004, SANZAR began negotiations for a new television deal to take effect in 2006. That December, SANZAR announced that a new TV deal had been signed, with News Corporation winning the rights for the UK, Australia and New Zealand and Supersport winning rights for South Africa. The contract is worth USD 323 million over five years, which is a 16% annual increase compared to the previous deal. . It covers international fixtures as well as the Super 14. SANZAR remained free to negotiate separate deals for other markets, such as France, Japan and the Americas.
Assuming for a minute that information is accurate, one ponders: Why is SANZAR being so uncooperative and demanding exorbitant fees for broadcast rights in Canada and the United States?
Or do I have this all wrong? I get emails all the time asking me these same questions. Enquiring minds want to know; if anyone in a position to answer on-or-off the record knows what the impasse is, please step forward and let me/us know.
Is the breakdown because broadcasters in North America are too cheap, or is SANZAR asking unreasonable fees for rights?
As a huge player in SANZAR, it seems counterproductive to me that the NZRU should provide handouts and assistance to help grow Canadian rugby on the one hand, while simultaneously dragging their heels and not pushing for some sort of television deal to grow the game for Canada's (rapidly eroding, nay, vanishing) rugby audiences and potential new players, and just as importantly promoting their rugby brand(s) to North America. I really think everybody is missing the boat.
Now, I can't provide answers, and I am in no position to do that. I'm just a frustrated fan with a blog, desperately trying to ask questions about a major problem with the game we love in North America.
Maybe some of my questions are based upon faulty assumptions and mistaken facts. But I'll conclude for the time being by throwing out one more thing that's crossed my mind, namely: I have to wonder about adidas sponsorship deal for the kiwi S14 teams and the All Blacks; I'm wondering about Qantas investment in the Wallabies; I'm curious about Nike's expectations sponsoring the Springboks... surely these corporations were looking to promote their brands internationally when they inked those contracts. No one can tell me that adidas sponsored the All Blacks with massive investment because all they wanted to do was sell kits to four million kiwis? I'm guessing they made that deal for brand identity. They wanted to be associated internationally with a global brand that is connected to that teams' success and tradition, and they didn't just want to sell that brand every four years at the RWC.
We would like to believe that the IRB and unions like the RFU and SANZAR and whomever owns-and-sells these rights would make global television coverage a priority, especially in a first-world growth market like North America. Perhaps it's asking too much to expect bureacracies to care about the little guy.
But isn't a corporation like adidas the least bit concerned that their rugby branding is blacked-out in a market as massive and free-spending as North America? Wouldn't Guiness and Heineken like the Six Nations and Euro club competitions exported here as well?
We need partnerships, but as far as viewing real XVs rugby union on our tv screens, all us North American fans are getting is the shaft.