The new rugby league, led by 30-year-old founder Owen Scannell, a former Major League Rugby exec, will get linear and digital distribution for its inaugural 2021 events, but the partnership does not yet extend into PR7s first full season, slated for 2022.
The deal covers the league’s post-Olympics pilot tournaments—one for its six men’s teams and one for the league’s four women’s teams, held concurrently at the same soon-to-be-disclosed venue. The events will be available live and on-demand across several of FOX’s media platforms, including FS1, FS2, the Fox Sports app and online. The league will announce the host city and debut date in the coming months, saying the event will take place after this summer’s Tokyo Games, where 10 signed PR7s players on both the men’s and women’s sides will represent the United States.
Former Arena League football player and two-time World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year Perry Baker and U.S. Women’s National Rugby Sevens team co-captain Abby Gustaitis are among the players who will participate in PR7s inaugural event. The league is hoping its stars bring some momentum back from Tokyo before it launches.
“When we founded PR7s, we envisioned the top North American players competing on a national stage to showcase the most electric sport on the planet,” said Scannell, who also serves as the league’s CEO. “Our partnership with FOX ensures existing rugby fans, and new fans alike, will receive high-quality content and live broadcasts across top-tier platforms. The announcement also provides a variety of sponsorship opportunities for partners to align with a sport and a league that is perfect for the next generation of young fans.”
PR7s is not Fox Sports’ first entry into rugby. The network is one of two broadcast partners for Major League Rugby’s in-progress fourth season, alongside CBS Sports Network. That said, rugby sevens is quite different from the rugby union form of the sport that Major League Rugby plays.
Having made its Olympic debut in 2016, sevens, as it’s called, is a fast-paced, reduced-size version of the sport. With seven players per side, teams participate in a series of short, tournament-style games over the course of a single day. With two seven-minute halves lasting a total of just 14 minutes of actual play, each sevens match is much quicker than the more traditional rugby union matches, which last 80 minutes and are played with 15 athletes a side.
“As the exclusive television partner of Premier Rugby Sevens, we are proud to drive more awareness to this exciting new league and showcase the world-class athletes who will be part of its launch,” said Bill Wanger, head of programming and scheduling at Fox Sports. “The speed of ‘sevens’ combined with the league’s tournament format featuring 15-minute games are perfect for today’s sports fans.”
The approach for PR7s is Premier Lacrosse League-like: a single-entity league with a tour-based circuit model, where men’s and women’s teams will play multiple games over the course of a single day in one location in cities across the U.S. and Canada. The model also mirrors that of The World Rugby Sevens Series, an annual international rugby sevens circuit comprised of 10 tournaments between national teams, held at venues across 10 countries.
The PR7s league will house both its men’s and women’s teams under one umbrella, and players will earn equal pay. While the debut tournament this fall will feature just four women’s teams to the men’s six, the league hopes to achieve gender parity in teams for the league’s first full season—as well as a season-long broadcast partner.