NRL’s stratospheric blast off to be global TV event
Footy's finally back and so are the fans - all 300 million of them watching in loungerooms around the world.
In what will be a watershed moment for rugby league, the NRL's stunning eight-game return over the next four days is set to be watched by a record global television audience of 300 million sport-starved people in what is expected to be the largest TV ratings for a single round in the sport's 112-year history.
Industry insiders predict around 30 to 40 million people around the world would tune in to each match over the next four days as rugby league becomes the first football code in the English-speaking world to return to the playing fields and television.
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NRL matches will be shown in more than 70 countries including the US, France, Britain, Papua New Guinea and Uganda.
At 7.50pm on Thursday when Brisbane and Parramatta kick off at Suncorp Stadium, rugby league will become just the third major sporting league in the world, along with football's K League in South Korea and Germany's Bundesliga, to resume post COVID-19.
Matches will also be shown in such far-flung countries as Nauru, Angola and the Netherlands.
Some countries have aired NRL games in recent years but matches will be promoted heavily this week.
The increase in viewership could not be accurately predicted but it could be as much as 40 to 50 per cent.
"There's certainly a unique opportunity to attract new fans to our game globally," said acting NRL CEO Andrew Abdo.
"While it has been the loyalty of our fans here at home that have been driving us to resume the season, we will be one of only a few live sports around the world that will be playing in June and July.
"We know fans are craving live sport so we're excited about the global audience we could attract with the resumption of the competition and the exposure that will bring to our corporate partners.
"We are also expecting a strong take up of the Watch NRL app which allows fans to stream games live throughout the world. It's a credit to our chairman Peter V'landys and the commission for their unwavering commitment to bring the game back on May 28."
NRL officials hope to gain a slice of the massive US sports market and have already seen a spike in media interest.
A story on forbes.com this week was headlined "Americans, this is why the NRL should be your new favourite sport".
"Rugby league is the lesser-known but infinitely superior form of rugby, and if you like your sport high-octane, occasionally violent, endlessly authentic and frequently spectacular, then you need to tune in this Thursday for the National Rugby League (NRL)," the story read.
"Rugby league is like watching the NFL, except after every down they immediately have to get up and do it again, with no break, and nobody wears padding."
Ratings in England are expected to spike significantly with Super League yet to recommence.
"Around 80 to 90 million people would have access to the games in America and Europe, maybe more. From that you have to ask yourself how many would watch it," said a TV source.
"Many may not understand the game but they are craving live sport around the world right now. Australians are watching the Bundesliga - why? Because it's the only live sport being shown.
"I would imagine around 30 to 40 million people would watch each game for longer than 15 minutes. That would be equivalent to watching one quarter of an NFL match.
"Way back in 2011, State of Origin and the NRL grand final reached 40 million households in the US and 48 million through Europe. They might not come back when their preferred sport returns but, this weekend, they will be watching."
The NRL has jumped back first ahead of the AFL and is the first sport to be played since March 23. Despite the hype and excitement, Nine and Fox are reluctant to predict their NRL ratings in Australia for this round for fear they may fall short.
While fans will be tuning in, the broadcasters will have a challenge ahead to create atmosphere without supporters in the grandstands.
Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson said ravenous sports fans around the world would tune into rugby league.
"There has been a lot of work from the NRL to get back on and we want to represent our game well in some clear air space around the world," said Robinson.
"There has been some interest around rugby league from friends who live overseas. It will be good to get our game back on represented the right way.
"It's great to be back. We want to represent rugby league and there's no better game for us than Friday night's match against Souths to start the season."
Former NSW skipper and coach Laurie Daley knows the NRL cannot miss a wonderful opportunity.
"This is a great chance to showcase our game to so many countries," Daley said. "We have known how great our game has been for years but now it's time for others to find out."
Originally published as NRL's stratospheric blast off to be global TV event