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Footy Oval Pitch

It’s many decades ago when I first viewed Australian Football (“Footy”) on television. At that initial impression, this contact sport did not resemble gridiron football, rugby, or soccer football.  Played oddly on an oval pitch* and not a rectangle, Footy also featured scoring solely by kicking through two sets of goalposts, handballing passes, and bouncing the ball to move forward.

But the contests between sides (18 players on each team) proved exciting sport to watch; fast paced action, running continually, and many goal scoring opportunities. I tuned in every week, and, eventually, over the years, recognized the players’ names and even found a favorite team to root for, the Adelaide Crows.

I bring up Footy to segue into American viewers watching, for the first time, the Aviva Premiership rugby from England, aired on NBC Sports (and digital) over the weekend. Sources indicate that the first week’s match generated about 100,000 households, comprised probably from former and current ruggers in the US.

What response from people who never saw rugby played before? The viewing audience’s first reactions would have recognized the television coverage as representing the highest standard of   professional sports: Camera angles from midfield shot high in the stands. Angles from the goal posts, comprising long shots down the field. Close ups of the scrums. Close ups of individual players. And the strange spotlight, seemingly from heaven, to pinpoint an individual player. Additionally, audio coverage by knowledgeable sports announcers familiar with the game and the two fifteens.

Using last week’s Bath against Gloucester match as an example, there was only one try, and five penalties in Bath’s 15-6 victory. The BBC reported that the first half proved “underwhelming,” partially due to wet conditions. In sum, for a neophyte American viewer it would have been a slog to stay with an unexciting game for the entire time.

Top professional rugby in the US continues to be of television interest only to those already familiar with the game. NBC will evaluate the Aviva audience size and demographics at season’s end next spring.  

* The oval pitch for Footy came about because 19th century Melbourne Cricket Club players wanted to train in the off season and converted the cricket oval to Australian Rules Football.