NBC Sports Gold Adds Passes for Rugby, Pro Motocross

Direct-to-consumer service offers access to live streams and replays

NBC Sports Gold is a big win for niche sports fans. In this direct-to-consumer service, NBC lets fans buy live-streaming and replay access to events and leagues they can’t get through broadcast and cable. Instead of paying a monthly fee for a sports channel, fans buy a one-time pass and get access to only the content they want. The one-year-old service started with its Cycling Pass, then added a Rugby Pass, Track and Field Pass, and finally Pro Motocross pass in late April.

The current Rugby Pass covers 27 games from the Premiership season.

The Rugby Pass, covering 27 games from the Premiership season, goes for $29.99. Because the pass started in the middle of the season, the price will certainly be higher next year when NBC offers a pass for the full run starting in September 2018. Matches are streamed live and ad-free. Since they’re coming from the UK, that means they start very early in the U.S. Luckily, most matches are on the weekend, and the service offers replay viewing for fans who prefer sleeping in.

The exclusive content on Sports Gold is designed to be additive to NBC Sports linear channels.

“The Rugby Pass includes all of the remaining matches for the 2016-17 rugby season, including the semifinals and the finals,” explains Portia Archer, VP, direct-to-consumer services, NBC Sports Group Digital. “Many of those matches would not have otherwise been available to consumers.”

The Pro Motocross Pass costs $49.99 and gives access to the full 2017 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship season, beginning on May 20.

For the Rugby Pass, the video that subscribers see comes from Aviva Premiership Rugby in England, which works with a third-party crew to create the multicamera feed. It’s the same video that goes out to BT customers in the UK but with different commentators and NBC Sports branding.

Device support for Sports Gold is a work in progress. The service is currently available on Apple iOS and tvOS, Chromecast, Android devices, and Amazon Fire TV. Fans get DVR-style controls for replay content, enabling them to pause and rewind to watch a scrum as often as they like; the live streams don’t have those controls.

Some of the passes include content other than live events and replays. The Track and Field Pass, for example, offers documentary video about the marathon. Also, some passes offer viewers advanced features that are beyond broadcast. The Cycling Pass, for example, lets viewers access information about riders and teams, such as who’s holding a particular jersey at any time. Viewers can also call up information about the course and terrain or view a map with GPS tracking. NBC is expected to expand those advanced features.

“In the future, we’d like to be able to extend [such] features to other races to the extent it makes sense, maybe some of the other multi-stage races that we have,” Archer says. “For track and field and rugby, we’re thinking — though in particular for rugby — what are some of the data-rich features and enhancements that might make sense?”

NBC Sports Group Digital’s Portia Archer

The one major device that NBC Sport Gold is missing is Roku, and that’s coming, although Archer can’t say when. The service is powered by Playmaker Media, which was spun out of NBC in 2016, and Playmaker is responsible for building and maintaining apps. The NBC team works with Playmaker on a daily basis, communicating pass requirements and talking product launches.

Starting with the Pro Motocross Pass, NBC Sports Gold is no longer limited to the US. Motocross fans can subscribe in 13 additional countries, including the UK, Canada, and Japan. For Playmaker, expanding abroad meant working out international digital-rights–management requirements.

Online video is in an experimentation phase now, and NBC Sports Gold is a way to satisfy an unmet need while providing a fair price. Archer sees it as a win.

“I think it’s been a good thing because many of the so-called niche sports are not widely accessible or available in the U.S.,” she explains. “There is fandom, and there is demand, but the access and the availability are more scarce or more limited than some of the other more broadly popular sports. I think having content available across devices and available, in this case, directly to the consumer and often content that you have a hard time getting access to, to begin with, is helpful and exposes the sport to a large number of fans.”

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