World Rugby in discussions for Netflix style access-all-areas documentary 6 months ago

World Rugby in discussions for Netflix style access-all-areas documentary

"We've had a couple of conversations."

Following the raging success of sports documentaries like Drive to Survive, The Last Dance and the All or Nothing series, in the NFL and Premier League, talk of a Netflix rugby documentary, or similar with another major streamer, has ramped up.

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The increased interest, and viewing figures, in Formula 1 has many involved in other sports wondering how to best duplicate that success story. In recent weeks, we have heard of golf and tennis working with Netflix on upcoming docu-series'.

On the latest House of Rugby [LISTEN from 9:30 below], World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin revealed to hosts Seán O'Brien and Alex Goode, that talks are already underway for an access-all-areas doc.

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Alan Gilpin pictured speaking to the media at a briefing in Tokyo, back in 2019. (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

World Rugby CEO on rugby documentary talks

Having taken over from Brett Gosper as chief executive of World Rugby, following involvements with Rugby World Cup stagings and the London Olympics, one of Alan Gilpin's main undertakings is growing the game.

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Asked by Alex Goode what rugby can do to learn from other sports, Gilpin points to football as 'such a simple sport, so easy for people to understand, easy for people to play and get in to'. He continues:

"Similarly with Basketball another sport that's very global, so there's things we can do I think to look at other sports and maybe it comes back to simplifying a little bit and if not always simplifying the game, simplifying how we present and talk about the game.

"We've got a sport that sometimes we make it difficult for people who haven't played it and don't watch it on a regular basis. We've made it difficult for them to come in to rugby, so we've got to take responsibility for that as a whole.

"When we think about rugby in new territories and globalising the game, there's definitely things we can learn from other sports… And it's probably quite a vogue subject now, whether it's a lot more of 'The Last Dance' or 'Drive To Survive'. How do you use non-live action to really excite a younger generation, a younger audience? Is it e-Sports and gaming? Most of those innovations we're not doing as well in rugby as other sports are.

"Sometimes the barrier to that is it requires us all - players, teams, professional leagues and the international game - to say, 'It's only going to work if we all do this together'. And, actually, one of the things we've got to do is give the players a better voice in that because the players are the stars of the show here and that's absolutely going to be the case as the women's game grows.

"So, let's build from that point of view and give the players that stage and that opportunity to be the stars. That's what I think the younger generation of fans, who are following the 'Drive To Survive' example or 'The Last Dance', are really going for."

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rugby documentary Maro Itoje of England confronts Peter O'Mahony and Cian Healy of Ireland. (Photo by Niall Carson - Pool/Getty Images)

How close are we to a Prime or Netflix rugby documentary?

Hearing the names 'Drive To Survive' [Formula 1] and 'The Last Dance' [basketball], immediately drew Sean O'Brien forward in his chair.

"Both of those had me enthralled," said the former Leinster and Ireland back-row. "I was like, 'Jesus Christ this is unbelievable'. O'Brien then asked if World Rugby had been approached by Netflix to do a rugby documentary along those lines.

"We've had a couple of conversations with some of the producers around some of those shows," says Alan Gilpin.

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"Again, without sounding too dull and corporate about it, the challenge is always who owns the IP [intellectual property] around that? So, great we want to do that, [but] how do we get access to the players? How do we get access behind the scenes?

"The 'All or Nothing' shows are a good example in NFL, so much of what you see and what's compelling isn't the footage, it's what's happening in the family environment, it's the player who hasn't made the cut, it's the issues the players are going through the personal and human experiences they're going through.

"There's some good conversations taking place, there's a lot more conversations to take place but ultimately it is going to be for us about bringing different groups together, and that's true whether we're talking about the behind the scenes docu-series or we're talking about NFTs and digital collectables and all of those types of things that again are getting kids really excited about sport."

O'Brien has pointed to how World Rugby could learn from Major League Rugby, over in the USA, and how they have given increased access to teams, staff and players to bring fans closer to clubs.

As Goode points out, the 1997 'Living with Lions' documentary, about the tour to South Africa, is still held as the standard-bearer in rugby for behind-the-scenes rugby access.

25 years on, the appetite is huge for something to rival that rugby documentary templar.