Rugby’s Place in the Sports Streaming Service Boom

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Rugby’s Place in the Sports Streaming Service Boom

Over the past year, leading streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have been acquiring the rights to stream live sports. Netflix has acquired WWE and NFL events, while Amazon has acquired games from the NBA and Major League Baseball. Where does that leave rugby, and will a similar broadcasting deal come to a popular streaming platform in the future?

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Rugby Streaming

For the past decade, streaming services have been producing and offering exclusive content to compete with one another. As competition has become fierce, they are now exploring more ways to offer unique events that you can’t find anywhere else. That led them to live sports, which draws larger audiences than any fictional film or TV show.

Now that the video-on-demand boom has passed, streaming services are looking to bring sports online too. This is a larger trend outside of sports, where many other industries have found a lot of success online. For example, retail has evolved into e-commerce, while iGaming sites have provided an online place for real money gambling, by offering slot games and other casino experiences over the internet. Live sports broadcasting pre-dates these, but it hasn’t made its way to the big-name streaming services yet. Instead, national broadcasters and sports-centric platforms have co-streamed events online alongside terrestrial coverage.

That’s where rugby enters the equation. n the UK, the BBC and ITV are responsible for broadcasting the biggest events to audiences, like the World Cup and the Six Nations. For the US and surrounding regions, American broadcasters like NBC and ESPN pick up the slack. However, the lines between traditional broadcasting and online streaming have blurred thanks to services like BBC iPlayer and ITVX. These are services that allow legacy broadcasters to cater to modern audiences who expect on-demand streaming. That includes streamed entertainment, where both broadcasters joined forces to create services like BritBox. Today, rugby is still at home with the BBC, ITV, and Sky Sports, but interest from other streamers is brewing.

Netflix’s Six Nations Coverage

At the start of 2024, rugby fans tuned into the Six Nations to watch its member states batter one another on the pitch. When they did, most British viewers would have seen it through BBC, ITV and their proprietary streaming services. Of course, the Six Nations is a lot bigger than just Britain, so games were available on other channels like Ireland’s RTE and Wales’ S4C. Currently, the BBC and ITV’s live-streaming deal for the Six Nations will expire in 2025.

Aside from live games, Netflix has produced a behind-the-scenes documentary about the Six Nations teams. This is a familiar move by Netflix – they already do this for F1 racing and tennis, and plan to do a similar reality show for the WWE. In the world of sports docuseries, they have a lot more planned.

Netflix’s interest in the Six Nations may indicate a deal in the future, once the 2025 expiration date has passed. Before their historic $5 billion WWE deal, Netflix showed interest in the sport by producing a documentary series following the Ohio Valley Wrestling promotion. Only time will tell if another deal is on the horizon, though it should be said that Netflix doesn’t stream live races or tennis games despite showing similar behind-the-scenes shows.

As services compete for American sports, European sports present a lucrative opportunity to tap into new audiences. However, unlike the USA, our favourite sports leagues enjoy a very close relationship with old and prestigious national broadcasters like the BBC. It’s hard to imagine that Netflix would outcompete them for exclusive streaming rights. If Netflix or another big-name streamer moves into rugby, it’d probably be a co-streaming solution alongside the broadcasters that already show the sport.

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