Big milestone for Premiership Rugby with the first club rugby match live on NBC
Premiership Rugby will pass a significant milestone this weekend when Harlequins against Saracens becomes the first club rugby match ever to be shown on free-to-air US television when it kicks-off live on NBC at 7:30pm.
With the current record peak viewership for a Premiership Rugby fixture standing at 875,000 for Northampton Saints’ trip to Harlequins last season, the League’s Commercial Director Dominic Hayes is hoping that this weekend’s clash can topple that total.
“This has definitely got the potential to be the biggest ever television audience for a Gallagher Premiership Rugby game,” he said.
“Over the past five or six years we’ve had a real focus on spreading Gallagher Premiership Rugby’s global footprint.
“Obviously, the key market for us is the UK – as it will always be – but like any sporting brand, we want to have a global appeal.”
Last season Premiership Rugby became the first club rugby union tournament to air on national television in China (on Chinese free-to-air sports broadcaster CCTV5+), and Hayes added: “Having a few years ago been on air in around 60 million homes around the world, we’re now on air in over 500 million homes so it’s been a very rapid and successful expansion.”
NBC currently show all Gallagher Premiership Rugby matches live or ‘as live’ on their NBC Sports channel or NBC Gold service, so a shift across to the free-to-air channel seems a natural, but very significant, progression.
A name famed across the world for its Sunday Night Football coverage – the number one primetime television show in the US – NBC have also agreed deals to show the Six Nations and the Heineken Champions Cup.
The broadcasting institution have certainly shown their commitment to growing the game in the States, and Hayes believes that, in selecting a London derby clash chocked full of narrative – not least Harlequins’ bid to end their rivals’ perfect start to the season – NBC could not have picked a better fixture to whet American appetites.
“The past couple of years, the Harlequins versus Saracens game at the Stoop has been a real focus of drama – it’s almost as though the formbook goes out the window,” Hayes continued, with former Premiership Rugby stars Dan Lyle and Alex Corbisiero, as well as Leigh Diffley as Saturday’s presenting team.
“However dominant Saracens are, Harlequins tend to really up their game. The Stoop under the lights looks fantastic, so we’re anticipating that it’ll be a real cauldron in there, an unforgettable atmosphere.
“It’s a really great fixture without a doubt, with some of the biggest stars in the game – the likes of Owen Farrell, Mike Brown, Maro Itoje and Joe Marler going toe-to-toe.
“It is jam-packed with the biggest international stars that grace the Gallagher Premiership Rugby stage.
“We know how important star-quality is in the States and without a doubt we’ve got some major stars taking the field on Saturday night.”