You are here

Rugby broadcasters in the USA walk a fine line between over describing laws governing play to a viewership unfamiliar with the game, versus less chatter about arcane rules to a rugby-centric listening audience.

Once long ago, there was limited television of rugby in America. The few amateur announcers were former players, talking to a knowledgeable but minute rugby audience.

In 2019, with the proliferation of Major League Rugby's (MLR) 16-match schedule, rugby was available weekly on ESPN and CBS, and aired by some local city stations as well. In addition, television covered the HSBC Las Vegas Sevens in March and the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship in June.

Although the seeing angles were limited by the height of the smaller American MLR stadiums (and not the conventional sweeping views from the tall top of professional sports stadiums), the camera work adequately captured the action on the field. Good marks for close-ups of lineouts, scrum, and mauls. Kudos to ESPN and CBS for the fine coverage, including, reairings of the matches beyond game day.

What about the broadcasters' play by play? Aye, there's the rub.

Again, the viewer experienced television narration from former rugby players and coaches with little or no broadcast experience. Mainly, a line up of non-professional sports voices.

Digression coming next.  From a personal, listening/viewing experience, my highest rated sports broadcasters number Vin Scully who covered the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers for 67-years (Inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame) and Tom Durkin, the former voice of horse racing's Triple Crown and the New York Racing Association. These two legendary announcers provided crisp, factual sports commentary without bias. 

Back to the current rugby announcer pool. Judgmentally, the group suffers from these faults:

  • Filling every minute of airtime with commentary;
  • Explaining the laws of the game in detail ad infinitum; and,
  • Excessive cheerleading.

The truth is that there are 21-rules categories listed by World Rugby.

Undeniably, it's important in these televised matches for the announcers to explain to the first time rugby viewer what's transpiring on the field. Yet, to cite continually the esoteric laws governing the game each time the whistle blows, creates a dull and annoying encounter for the overwhelming preponderance of the viewing audience, the rugby community.

Everyone is grateful for the television exposure but...less is more.