Every week in the MLR provides us with too much information to process over two game days. Once again this year, we’ll be providing 3 immediate takeaways each week.
COVID Will Shape the Season
MLR released its Covid protocols last week. It’s good to see the league borrowing from the success of other American sporting leagues (though I have a nagging urge to question what ‘regular’ testing means).
However, some virus invasion is inevitable. Will teams be able to contain that intrusion? Will we see NFL style postponements for contact tracing? Will teams have enough men on hand to handle quarantines? For example, Toronto is taking 31 men to Atlanta, leaving 5 north of the border to train away from the squad. Is 31 enough? We’ve seen heavy player usage the last two years. Even normal injuries could be challenging since your ‘next man up’ is the next country up.
Some degree of disruption will come. Let’s see how the league handles it. Hopefully they do as well as they did with the news that…
MLR is Launching its Own Streaming Service
Only a global pandemic could push this one to Number 2. News that the league will be launching its own FREE streaming service (goodbye ESPN+) can only be well received. Instead of fighting for air space, this allows the league to capture its own ad revenue (presumably).
We don’t have much information yet. The service itself doesn’t launch until later this week, but the league cutting it close on broadcasting is pretty on brand. Hopefully, there aren’t too many glitches in the system, but it can’t be worse than that Round 2 Warriors-Free-Jacks match up from last year.
Of course, the streaming service remains only a piece of the broadcasting puzzle. Another big piece is…
MLR Gaining a Weekly FS2 Show
Tuesdays at 5:30 EST isn’t exactly primetime. FS2 isn’t exactly NBC. But MLR All Access is coming to your television this year.
Getting games on national TV is a challenge in and of itself. This is equally impressive. Sports talk programing feeds excitement for the game. It fills cable sports 24/7. How many hours a day do talking heads discuss the NFL? Even during the offseason? Seeing a talk program about MLR provides a deeper relationship for current fans and lends legitimacy to the league itself to potential fans. And you can’t ignore the fact that FS2 would only be putting it on the air if they felt enough demand already existed.
While CBS Sports have been fantastic to start, the league’s relationship with Fox continues to deepen. Between airing games and MLR All Access, Fox is getting into domestic rugby. They already cover Australia’s NRL (don’t stay up, set the DVR), but this will be the first regular foray into rugby union. It could be the counterpunch to NBC’s growing coverage through the Six Nations, Premiership, and European Championship, as well as ESPN’s Pro14 and random internationals coverage. The game isn’t prominent enough to call this an arms race, but it’s a theme to watch over the next decade.