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The announcement that United World Sports and NBC will partner to bring the Varsity Cup to network television was big news this week.
With the Varsity Cup Final now slated to be on live network television right after the Kentucky Derby on May 3, it seems that the big-time is, finally, here.
(Note: United World Sports runs the USA 7s tournament, the Collegiate Rugby Championship, and some other event properties. The CEO of United World Sports, John Prusmack, is also the CEO of RUGBY Magazine and RUGBYMag.com. RUGBYMag, however, is not a property of United World Sports.)
What UWS will do is bring the marketing and promotion heft to make the Varsity Cup events bigger and better. This year the Varsity Cup found some very good venues and, in certain cases, strong crowds. But UWS will be able to make this events better, especially as the Varsity Cup expands to 12 teams.
The video coverage will be more coordinated, and advertising partners will be on board, too. All of that makes the event more grown up.
It is, said Navy Head Coach Mike Flanagan, what everyone wanted from the College Premier Division (now renamed DIA). Certainly DIA is dreaming big, too, and getting on an ESPN channel is a good thing. But the Varsity Cup Final, on NBC Sports Network, following the Kentucky Derby ... that's very impressive.
(Clarification _NBC is expected to show the game on NBC Sports Network, not to be confused with NBC main channel)
Another interesting development about this news is that the Varsity Cup is a 15s competition. UWS has previously worked with 7s. That's understandable - the opportunities were in 7s, and 7s is a great way to bring new fans to the game. And it's true that some in rugby felt that 7s was eclipsing 15s in news coverage and interest from TV and sponsors. But UWS and NBC have shown that they like 15s, too. They just needed the right opportunity - a high-level, compelling competition that USA Rugby doesn't already own.
And this will be a compelling competition. The major national college championship games of the last several years have been thrilling, well-played, and really close. There is no reason to think this 2014 final won't be amazing, either.
Still don't think this is big. Wait until May, and see what is said by people you know who aren't rugby fans.
(See below entire Varsity Cup?NBC/UWS launch press conference)