If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you will know that I am a huge Rugby Canada fan, and you might also know that my husband and I are part of an organization called Rugby United. What brought us to Rugby United, aside from the love of rugby here in Canada and supporting the men and women who play here, was the love of the rugby that is played over in the UK and France.
We support many of the Premiership Teams as well as some of the Championship, and we watch as many games as we are able to, especially if any Canadian Internationals are in the team. As a fairly small rugby nation here in Canada, we can boast more than a dozen high-profile Canadian players who are incredibly popular at club level.
The Future of Six Nations Rugby Coverage in Canada
As you watch the club matches, particularly as an ex-pat as Mark is, you would naturally be swept up by Six Nation fever, which happens each new year with the tournament beginning the end of January or beginning of February. There’s nothing like it to be honest. All your favourite Premiership players on one field, playing a team from another nation yet against their own day-to-day teammates. There is a lot of great hype, a lot of pomp and circumstance, and a lot of heart.
No one can get the excitement flared up for a big tournament quite so well as the fans and advertisers from Scotland, England, Ireland, Wales, France and Italy. The rivalries from nation to nation, the banter, the spirit, the national pride, the players who focus in ads about team and sportsmanship and heart, it all just makes for absolutely passionate viewing.
We watch it all. We cheer for favourites which might mean if we are watching England vs Wales that we cheer for England as a team but we also cheer for Leigh Halfpenny of Wales. We’ll want Scotland to win the match but might celebrate a big Italy try. We banter on twitter through the entire 2 months about players, teams, matches, officials, fan reaction.
We love it.
Yet….part of the cross that any ex-pat of any country has to bear is losing some of that home-town feeling of a thing. For Mark, it’s hard not being in the midst of the absolute insanity that takes the UK by storm from January to March. And what makes that further frustrating is the lack of coverage that we get here in Canada.
Okay, we pay for our need, and we NEED to see rugby. It was all fairly handy when most of the rugby we wanted (except frustratingly when it’s a massive derby such as Northampton Saints and Leicester Tigers and it’s not shown for some inexplicable reason!) was on SportsNet World. We paid roughly $20.00 a month for the channel, but did so without complaint. We needed to see our rugby and there was plenty of it.
Then last summer, BeIn Sports ended up getting half the action. That meant that we would pay closer to $40.00 for the privilege of seeing our sport. But we noticed something….neither channel was even airing as many as SportsNet World had aired when it had sole coverage. We weren’t getting key matches. We were lucky to see 4 a week when previously we could PVR games and watch them every evening if we wished to.
We weighed our options and went with BeIn Sports so that we could at least be assured the Premiership, and we got to see Pro 12 as well, which was important as we have 3 big Canadian players (DTH Van Der Merwe, Jeff Hassler, and Tyler Ardron) playing for Pro 12 teams. But in the process we lost any cup action and the French rugby. This was hard because so many players are now playing in the Top 14 in France, Canadians as well as English/Welsh/Irish. We felt we were missing a lot of action.
So suffice to say that last season our rugby coverage was lacklustre and our frustration levels were a little high.
But we did manage to get most of the Six Nations matches.
Now, today, a new deal has been struck whereby BBC, they with the absolutely fantastic coverage of Six Nations rugby, they with the unbeatable cinematography of the action, they with voiceovers and the ability to ignite passion for a nation in the dead, is sharing coverage with ITV Sports. More than that, they haven’t got ANY England Rugby coverage at all until the whole scheme is renewed in 2021. 6 years. 6 years and at this point we have NO CLUE as to how bad this will be for ex-pat viewers in Canada.
Rugby is growing. Yet for ex-pats, access to the growing sport is shrinking. It makes no sense. For me, as a most passionate Rugby Canada fan, I want to see MORE of Jebb Sinclair playing for London Irish, not less. I want to see Jamie Cudmore at Clermont, I want to see Ardron and Hassler at Ospreys and Van Der Merwe at Scarlets. I want to see my favourite Premiership teams and players who are striving to get the call up to International Duty. I even want to see the American Premiership players do well (it’s neighbourly of me!).
I don’t know what the future for the airing of rugby in Canada will be, but it doesn’t feel great. It’s bad enough we barely see enough action on Canadian television when Canada plays. It just feels like all the access is disappearing. It’s frustrating to the point of anger. We are really trying to get the word out that rugby is massively exciting and entertaining, the best sport to watch, played by men and women with massive heart. Hard to encourage new Canadian viewers when there’s nothing to show them. This in turn will not help rugby grow here in Canada.
I really hope that this new deal means INCREASED exposure for Canadians and ex-pats to rugby and not less.
I’m not holding my breath.