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Will Americans pay $200 to watch the US lose the Rugby World Cup?

England's Jonny May scoring a try in a recent rugby match
AP Photo/Tim Ireland
England, the US’s first opponents, are flying high.
  • Mike Murphy
By Mike Murphy

Technology editor

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The 2019 Rugby World Cup is set to kick off in Japan on Sept. 20, with the hosts taking on Russia in the first game of the tournament. The US will make its eighth appearance in the competition, perhaps coming as a surprise to many sports fans in America, where the game barely registers on national television.

But by some accounts, rugby is the fastest-growing sport in the US, and the sporadic matches that have been televised have been well watched on TV, and even well attended at major US stadiums. In 2016, rugby returned to the Olympics, raising its profile in the US and even further worldwide, and over the past few years, rugby has slowly transformed from a generally amateur sport in the US to one where American players are earning a living, if modest, from the sport.

But still, will many Americans be willing to awake early to watch matches taking place halfway around the world? The UK’s Premier League soccer has managed to get some fans in the US to do just that, with a reported 2.2 million people tuning in to last season’s final day of matches. NBC took over the rights to the Premier League from Fox and ESPN in 2013, and has managed to build a loyal cadre of US supporters, a mix of expats and locals, who enjoy the beautiful game. During the Premier League finale (when all 20 teams play at the same time) last year, NBC managed to utilize its entire roster of channels to broadcast the games for anyone to watch.

US rugby fans will not be quite as lucky. NBC is offering every match of the Rugby World Cup for a set fee, where consumers can choose to pay either $200 for access to the entire tournament or $30 per match. While NBC does now reserve a few games per team in the Premier League for a subscription service called NBC Sports Gold Premier League Pass, that package only costs $40 (or $65 if you want access to highlights and repeats). NBC told Quartz that it’s also going to be offering 26 matches in the Rugby World Cup, including the US’s group stage matches, on its NBC Sports TV channel.

How to watch the 2019 Rugby World Cup in the US

If you’re not deterred by the high price tag, it’s pretty easy to watch this year’s tournament in the US. Just sign up at NBC Sports Gold for the Rugby World Cup Pass, or log on and pay for an individual match before kickoff.

For the free matches, just tune in to NBC Sports on your TV.

The US Eagles’ first match of the tournament will be against England at 6:45am US Eastern time on Sept. 26. The US’s chances of progressing past the group stage for the first time seem quite slim, though: Beyond England, the US is also pitted up against strong teams in France, Tonga, and Argentina in its group—all but Tonga are ranked higher than the US in the world rankings.

Correction (Sept. 19): An earlier version of this story indicated that NBC wouldn’t be showing any matches on its TV channel, when in fact, it will. 

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