Rugby World Cup sees free coverage as ‘critical’

  • The 2021 Rugby League World Cup was postponed to August last year
  • The organizers want to extend the benefits of the tournament beyond the sporting context

Organizers of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup due to be held in England later this year have said they will not stage the event if they have not been able to get free-to-air coverage (FTA) in key markets.

The last edition of the World Cup held in England dates back to 2013 but was managed by a relatively small team with a small budget. Meanwhile, all but seven of the 28 games have been played behind a paywall in the UK – something organizers admit has limited the competition’s impact.

When the decision was made to bid for this tournament, it was thought that it should have a bigger reach, be more inclusive and benefit local communities. The focus was not on legacy, but on having a positive impact on the preparation for the tournament and being more inclusive by running the men’s, women’s and wheelchair competitions at the same time.

Coverage of the FTA is seen as crucial to achieving these goals and bringing the sport to new audiences, and the organizers have made sure to hold as many commercial, image and media rights as possible to make this happen.

All 61 matches will be shown live on BBC TV and digital platforms, while FTA partners in other territories have also been announced. When combined with Channel 4‘s Super League coverage and the BBC’s long-term commitment to the Challenge Cup, there is hope that this year could be a “transformative moment” for the sport in the UK in terms of mainstream adoption – and in other countries too. .

“It was essential that we had terrestrial coverage,” said Jon Dutton, chief executive of Rugby World Cup 2021. “Not everyone knows the sport, so we need to reach new audiences. We [told the RLIF] that we weren’t prepared to bid unless they let us make a land deal.

“Digital is really important and we’re working with the BBC on their platforms, but we’re also working on direct-to-consumer. [platforms] for the rest of the world and on our tournament applications for example. Not many people have seen wheelchair rugby before, so put it in a big venue and broadcast it professionally.

“We do pay a royalties [to the RLIF] but we own everything. So we could make this land rights deal [in the UK] and monetize those rights in other markets. But it’s also important to us that people from our new nations like Brazil or Japan who are making their debut have access to see their teams compete and that’s a monetization opportunity for the international federation in the future.

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