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How TV coverage is changing rugby

Since the beginning of the professional era in 1995, rugby union has evolved with the times. One area in particular to develop vastly is technology. Dominic Evans discusses the implications for the future of rugby as technology’s grip on the game increases.

For British and Irish fans, Sky Sports exposed viewers to the sport worldwide. Subscribers were capable of watching the English Premiership, Lions, the Rugby Championship, Super Rugby and Heineken Cup. From viewing worldwide games, one can view and enjoy various styles of play employed globally.

The investment also brought about the introduction of TMOs at televised matches. For the ‘big’ games uncertainty about any try could be referred ‘upstairs’, where the TMO would adjudge if the try should be given. Sky modernised this traditional sport for us. The coverage is accompanied by various ex-players ranging from all over the rugby world, ranging from Sean Fitzpatrick, Michael Lynagh, Will Greenwood, Scott Quinnell and Frankie Sheahan. While one might not always agree with their analysis, the various different perspectives are certainly stimulating.

Others have adopted the style Sky introduced to our TV screens, most notably Rté and BT Sport. Mainly due to inferior funding, Rté possess the same pundits for national matches all year round, which get the majority of viewers. Personally I feel exposure to the ramblings of George Hook and Tom McGurk cannot help to allure new supporters to the game.

However, Rté’s Against The Head, a Monday night round-up of Irish rugby at all levels, is a very informative programme for beginners. Normally, there are two ex-players and a journalist. Alan Quinlan, Frankie Sheahan and Gerry Thornley are regulars. They offer impartial and honest opinions on both Irish rugby and the international game. The ex-players offer insight into the mentality of those in the trenches, the journalist presents ‘inside’ knowledge and a fan’s perspective.

For those interested in the Aviva Premiership, BT Sport not only adopted Sky’s format but also enhanced viewer involvement (this weekend the channel is free to view). The channel provides greater engagement with both teams including warm-up, halftime and match interviews with players and coaches. A new camera angle from the side-line named the ‘Line-out Cam’ demonstrates the Hooker’s perspective. The sports television channel supplies TMOs to untelevised games. This limits the controversy caused by a lack of TMO officiating in tight decisions. Although the coverage does not contain the same spectrum of punditry as Sky, the experts are recently retired players who know the modern game inside-out; Lawrence Dallaglio, Matt Dawson and Ben Kay to name three. There is also a different guest-pundit each week, usually a rugby star who is either playing or currently injured.

Earlier in the week, numerous newspapers reported of a breakthrough in relation to a new European competition. The papers mentioned that a new contract between Sky and BT Sport is in the works.  It will be fascinating to see exactly how this proposed European deal between the two warring factions pans out – will one coverage be superior to the other? One definite point is that the TV broadcasting of rugby is defining how we perceive the sport. More importantly the new style opens up the possibility of converting new or casual fans into more devoted followers. A major selling point is that the technology permits the viewer to adjudge their own opinion on hot topics.

Pundit Arena, Dominic Evans.

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