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Can Rugby Break Through?

USA Sevens Rugby Collegiate Championship Invitational
USA Sevens Rugby Collegiate Championship Invitational

Rugby is one of the most popular sports in the world.

But it hasn't really gotten its chance on television here in the United States.

That time is coming next month as and its sister channel Universal Sports will broadcast a round-robin tournament featuring sixteen collegiate club teams, including Ohio State, Notre Dame, Florida and Tennessee. (Note: NBC and CNBC are both owned by General Electric .)

"We like to take some swings and try different things," said Jon Miller, executive vice president of NBC Sports. "Some things work, some things don't, but we love the potential of this."

The game the teams will play at Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, from June 4-6, will be sevens, which means seven-on-seven with seven minute halves. The event is being coordinated by USA Sevens LLC, which owns and operates the largest commercial Rugby tournament in the country that crowns a champion each year from a larger pool of 125 national teams.

"It's basketball, football and soccer rolled into one," said Dan Lyle, tournament director of USA Sevens. "The sport just needs the chance to be exposed to a large amount of people and this is our chance."

Part of NBC's interest comes from the fact that rugby will be a demo Olympic sport in 2012 and an official sport in the Games four years later.

But Miller says that it's more than that. Rugby might turn into a viable business one day.

For it's first effort, NBC has some big names backing willing to jump aboard, including Subway and Anheuser Busch, both of which will have its commercials running inside the stadium and on the television broadcast. The TV broadcast will also feature the brands on the field, thanks to virtual signage.

Subway will also be getting product placement of sorts, according to Tony Pace, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Subway Franchisee Ad Fund. "The players will eat our breakfast before they play," said Pace, who played rugby while at University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.

"There are sponsors here that will ensure that this event won't lose money," Miller said. "It won't make a lot of money either, but this is our first year, that's not our intention. It's just the beginning." Miller said he hopes this event will one day be as successful as some of NBC's other home runs like the Winter Classic, the American Century Golf Championship and the Mountain Dew Action Sports Tour.

Lyle says that it will take about two games for the watching public to get a complete grasp of the game. That's thanks in part to NBC promos that seeks to teach the rules of the game and the game's connection with other familiar and popular American sports.

"It's like having all these option quarterbacks running around on the field," Lyle said.

Dallas Mavericks owner and HDNet co-founder Mark Cuban, who played rugby at Indiana, is donating a $20,000 scholarship to the winning team and $5,000 to further develop the rugby game in high schools in Ohio, where the event is taking place.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com