Niall Sloane today stands at the peak of rugby excellence.
For the former Portadown man – head of ITV Sport – is the main reason why the riveting World Cup tournament is being beamed out on terrestrial television.
He told the Portadown Times, “World Rugby was offered considerably more money by satellite channels for the exclusive rights. But they showed, in my view, insight and intelligence in doing a deal with ITV, so that the superb theatre would be available free to everyone.
“It was the right decision by a body promoting and selling the game to the world. You only had to look at the sea of green at a packed Wembley on Saturday (Ireland versus Romania and at 90,000 a World Cup record) to see how it’s catching the imagination of the public.
“The viewing figures are also going through the roof, with 11.6 million watching the England-Wales match. And we predict even more for the England tussle with Australia this Saturday, which is a must-win match for England.”
He added that the sequence couldn’t have been better from ITV’s point of view. “Japan’s win over the South Africans couldn’t have been scripted better, with Japan’s late winning try, and the Welsh victory over England has really boosted the figures.
“We at ITV also secured the last World Cup in New Zealand and the game is really taking off worldwide. World Rugby is doing a marvellous job.”
Niall’s main sport in the past has been football. He played at Shamrock Park during his Portadown College days and went to Sheffield University, playing for the city’s ‘Wednesday’ outfit. He graduated in law, plumped to work for a provincial newspaper and then entered the world of television.
A Manchester United fan, he worked for the BBC from 1982-2009, with a brief flirtation with ITV, which he joined permanently in 2009.
He has worked with Sportsnight, Match of the Day and was in charge of the Beeb’s World Cup coverage for several tournaments, ranging from Mexico to Japan and Germany. He rates the ITV rugby deal as being one of his greatest coups and gives full marks to World Rugby for their foresight.
But he insist that the Football Association are no slouches when it comes to marketing the so-called Beautiful Game. “The combination of the ‘live’ satellite matches and the Match of the Day highlights makes for really professional marketing,” he said.