NBC has lined up a quartet of sponsors for its coverage of the 2011 USA Sevens International Rugby Championship, cutting deals with Bridgestone, Subway, Toyota and ADT.
The seven-a-side tournament kicks off on Saturday, Feb. 12, in Las Vegas. Universal Sports will carry the first matches of the day beginning at 2 p.m., before throwing to the broadcast flagship at 3:30. All told, NBC and the cable sports network will present approximately 13-and-a-half hours of rugby on Saturday and another six hours of live play the following day.
One of Saturday’s first matches will feature the U.S. team taking on the squad from South Africa.
Rarely seen on American broadcast television––Fox Soccer Channel Plus and BBC America carry professional rugby union (15-a-side) matches from the U.K.––the stripped-down version drew the attention of NBC Sports brass in 2009, after the International Olympic Committee voted to recognize it as an Olympic sport. Sevens will make its Olympic debut at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Last summer, NBC became the first network to broadcast college rugby, airing the USA Sevens Collegiate Championship Invitational on June 5 and 6. Subway and Toyota already have committed to sponsoring NBC’s coverage of this year’s tournament.
While rugby is a niche sport––NBC’s coverage of the sevens collegiate tourney drew a 0.6 household rating, or around 750,000 total viewers––it is growing in popularity. Some 90,000 players are registered with the sport’s governing body, USA Rugby.
Rugby fans and novices alike can expect this weekend’s games to get the full NBC Sports treatment, as the broadcasts will feature interstitials about individual players and the rules of the game. “Our rugby coverage will follow the blueprint for all our sports programming,” said Jon Miller, president of programming, NBC Sports and Versus. “For a lot of people, this will be their first exposure to the sport, so it’s incumbent upon us to educate them about the particulars.”
A speedier version of the traditional game, a sevens match consists of two seven-minute periods and a brief halftime (one minute; two in finals). As with soccer, sevens play is uninterrupted by commercial breaks.
“Our games are heavily under-commercialized. We really wanted to limit our sponsor messages to the edges of the game,” Miller said. “But we also have the opportunity to offer greater exposure by way of on-field branding and enhancements within the broadcast.”
Among the integrations created for the four sponsors are on-air promos and tune-ins, branded scoreboards and clocks, and onsite activations (JumboTron spots, logos posted on and around the field). “These are all very strong NBC partners and they understand what we’re trying to achieve here,” Miller said. “These are partnerships in every sense of the word.”
In addition to the national broadcast sponsors, USA Sevens has secured support from Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Budweiser, DHL, Pepsi and South African Airways as premier local sponsors for the weekend event.
“With such great sponsor support, rugby is ‘in business’ in the United States,” said Jonathan First, president of USA Sevens. “We look forward to bringing each of their brands to life in unique and exciting ways on the field and during the broadcast.”