Our Annual Commentary on FloRugby

USA men’s rugby is back in action on July 1st. With it comes the return of FloRugby.

FloRugby isn’t a new topic here. The streaming home of USA Rugby has drawn universal revile. At a price of $30/month for occasionally spotty streaming, there’s a reason why Twitter loves to hate it.

The reasons why FloRugby is such an issue aren’t new. While MLR has tried to put rugby in front of people at no cost, and the NBC family has provided affordable access to the Premiership and European rugby, FloRugby’s steep paywall makes even me hesitate. (I’ll buy in before tonight’s game, but not a day before.) For a game that has such growth potential, test level rugby is still extremely pricey for the casual fan.

FloRugby’s deal with USA Rugby runs into 2024. It could be extended, but it likely comes with a fight.

FloRugby, owned by FloSports, is built around a model of vertical integration. Take their deal with USA Gymnastics. Announced as a five-year deal in January of 2021, it was never designed simply to be about international level gymnastics. FloRugby quickly pushed into college level gymnastics. The logic is simple: college gymnastic fans can watch their favorite athletes compete at the next level, while international gymnastics fans can check out the next stars of the event.

FloSports’s strategy around rugby has been a bit more patchwork. They’ve integrated horizontally across test level rugby. Every Tier 1 summer and fall series is available on Flo for American fans. Its expensive, but its a single solution for a sport that lacks a massive draw in the US. Their rugby strategy includes verticality abroad. Take the New Zealand system. Want to watch the All Blacks in the USA? FloRugby. Super Rugby Pacific? FloRugby. National Provincial Championship? You know the answer.

Its not about offering every rugby event in the world. Its about providing access to complete vertical systems that (preferably) cross over horizontally. If you have all that Kiwi content, adding content from the Australian system makes sense. They already exist in The Rugby Championship/SANZAAR deal. They play in Super Rugby. Just add on the domestic competition and you’ve integrated that entire professional pyramid as well.

That’s where things get interesting for USA Rugby’s future. Major League Rugby has a single streaming home around the world: The Rugby Network. This year, TRN started peeling away some of the college rugby that previously existed on FloRugby. Its built out its collegiate 7s content as well.

That leaves only one piece of the American rugby ladder our of its grasp. At least until 2024.

The idea that TRN could enter the USA Rugby rights bidding war isn’t new. MLR and the Eagles are worth more together than separately. The Eagles would fill in TRN’s programming during the second half of the year, while MLR builds visibility for the Eagles content.

The final piece is also the most important: money. FloSports has deeper pockets than TRN. Its part of why peeling away content from the less costly lower levels first is so smart. The Rugby Network is unlikely to outbid Flo on dollars alone, but they could offer a better total package. Any dollar paid to USA Rugby will go to improving the product off the field for USA Rugby. Every dollar not paid to USA Rugby stays with TRN were it can be reinvested into the talent on the field that feeds into the national team.

(That’s a massive oversimplification. Cash retained by TRN would be invested to improve revenue from the service. That subsequent revenue stays with TRN as well. TRN is jointly owned by MLR and RugbyPass. Simply put, increasing streaming revenue can flow back to the league or reinvested into the TRN project, whichever provides more financial benefit for the parties involved.)

TRN hosting USA Rugby would likely involve some change to the service. A subscription option could be added solely for Eagle’s games while MLR coverage can double as marketing for that particular content. A modest fee closer to the $5/month that many subscriptions charge would be an agreeable price point.

So, as we all pinch our nose and sell our souls to FloRugby, we can also take solace knowing that the end is likely closer than the beginning.

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