BRISTOL, CT – Every now and again, we hear stories in the Southern Hemisphere press about potential Super Rugby expansion to Japan and The Americas as the SANZAR nations (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia formed in 1996). Why? Because they are looking to expand their commercial prospects, due to the increasing financial pressure placed on them by European clubs. These stories seem to be increasing in frequency, especially with South Africa set to add a 6th Super Rugby franchise in 2015 and with Argentina’s inclusion in this year’s Rugby Championship (formerly known as Tri Nations). If SANZAR is seriously considering expansion to the US, there are 2 things they need to do right away.
The first thing they need to do is give away the rights to Super Rugby matches to ESPN or perhaps even pay ESPN to do so if necessary. In exchange for giving away rights, they should be guaranteed 1-2 live matches per week on either ESPN or ESPN 2 and all matches live and on demand on WatchESPN, ESPN’s online streaming venture. ESPN has enormous influence on sporting tastes in this country and they pump up anything they have the rights to via Sports Center, ESPN.com and plugs during other ESPN broadcasts.
The Australian Football League has currently beaten SANZAR to the punch with live matches on ESPN on a regular basis. Australian Rules Football is played by virtually no one in the USA, yet because of these broadcasts, the average American sports fan is more familiar with Aussie Rules than with rugby. By giving away the American rights to Super Rugby to ESPN, Super Rugby would begin to lay the ground work for entry into the American market. This would make any American Super Rugby teams success far more likely. Additionally, any revenue lost from selling TV rights to obscure channels would likely be made back via merchandise sales. Both the casual American sports fans and current American rugby fans are currently more likely to watch European Rugby than SANZAR Rugby and thus buy European rugby merchandise. Presenting them with merchandise will help them become fans of Super Rugby.
You might get a laugh at this AFL piece from our partners at MeetTheMatts.com:
The second thing SANZAR needs to do immediately is decide what they ultimately want to gain from Super Rugby expansion. Do they want to go for the biggest markets possible or do they want the greatest chance of a team being financially viable? You can¹t always have both and while smaller markets like Salt Lake City and Sacramento are more likely to succeed than a place like L.A., are those markets what SANZAR ultimately wants to gain from expansion?
These are important questions to answer before spending time and money researching cities that don’t fit what SANZAR wants to achieve in Super Rugby.
A successful venture into the North American market could provide huge dividends for SANZAR and help them compete financially with the large European clubs but they have to take the necessary steps and lay the foundation well before they actually enter and they need to start this process as soon as possible.