When DMAX started covering the NatWest 6 Nations the ambition was to start a rugby revolution in Italy and 2018 has seen them take it one step further.
The Rugby Social Club – which shows every game in the Championship – is hosted by journalist Daniele Piervincenzi, with a host of former players joining him and a live studio audience.
Conscious of the status of rugby in Italy, compared with the other countries in the NatWest 6 Nations, DMAX want to convey the unique atmosphere and camaraderie of the sport.
Piervincenzi explains: “A few years ago we wanted to start a little revolution with our coverage and we’ve taken it another step this year.
“We have passionate rugby fans who are very different to other sports, it’s like a big family who welcome in those who don’t know the sport as well.
“There are those fans among us, who have played and watch every game, there are about half a million of us whereas we have 60 million people in all. So we want to spread this knowledge and culture of the sport to everyone. Because we are proud to be different.
“We have to grow and we cannot do that only from a sporting perspective but also from a cultural one.
“We can show people who don’t know our sport and the atmosphere, what it’s all about. The Rugby Social Club is trying to show what happens in a rugby family or in a clubhouse.
“We want it to be like a team that is coming back from an away game on the coach. That’s the atmosphere we’re aiming for.”
CHESS BOXING AND AUDIENCE INTERACTION
The informal nature of the Rugby Social Club is evident throughout, and that allows the players to speak with freedom and honesty after games.
The entertainment varies from chess boxing at pitchside to live interviews linking back to studio with players after games, all in a relaxed atmosphere in front of a studio audience of amateur players.
This year has also seen supporters given the chance to write into the programme with their videos, tweets and posts shown directly on screen with no filter.
For Piervincenzi, that increased interaction has helped develop the programme further.
He added: “The main objective for the Rugby Social Club is to have intelligent discussion and to get participation from our supporters.
“This year supporters write in, and what they write goes directly onto a video, it’s important to have people’s honest views.
“In the interviews we do, we get honesty from the players because they feel a responsibility to the fans.”
This weekend, DMAX will unveil a new guest on Super Saturday, with legendary Italian prop Martin Castrogiovanni making his first appearance on the show.
The iconic Castro, who retired from the game two years ago after winning 119 caps for his country, has been reticent to talk about rugby since hanging up his boots, but the inclusive side of the Rugby Social Club appealed to him.
Piervincenzi explained: “This weekend we will have Martin Castrogiovanni who has not spoken about rugby since he retired from the game.
“We’ve managed to convince him to come and join us on the Rugby Social Club. We’re delighted to have him because he’s an important person in the history of our sport.
“When he saw the programme, he understood what we were trying to do on the Rugby Social Club. Football is like a religion in Italy, but we want people to be able to live and breathe rugby through our programme.”
Part of the singular nature of the Rugby Social Club comes from the fact that rugby is the only sport covered on DMAX.
And while football is king in Italy, the ambition is to attract more and more fans to the oval ball, as executive producer Chiara d’Alfonso explains.
She said: “The editorial approach I’ve tried to build up together with the team during these years is based on these assumptions: DMAX is not a sports channel and rugby is not as mainstream in a soccer-driven country like Italy. Plus, rugby is a complex sport to show and tell. It is complicated for those who play it or are into it, you can imagine the challenge of explaining it to a wider audience.
“That is why on a free-to-air and entertainment channel like DMAX, where the only sport featured is rugby, our aim was to keep and preserve the sacred nature of this sport and the Championship, but at the same time, speak about rugby in a different way, both entertaining and inspiring our audience.
“Rugby is the sport of sharing and inclusion hence the name of our show: ‘Rugby Social Club’.
“We always wanted to speak to everyone: having the best of the best starting from our host, Daniele Piervincenzi, our analyst Paul Griffen, Vittorio Munari e Antonio Raimondi as commentators and of course, our guests; but also speaking to everyone else. We wanted to show and tell the world what is behind the sport, with storytelling, amateur teams as an audience, tradition and history, fun facts, entertainment, social awareness campaigns and initiatives linked to the players and the sport.
“This year we felt it was time to go beyond the linear TV and engage the audience in innovative and effective ways, giving to our fans a voice in the studio with a social stream of questions for players and guests, pictures, requests, and such.”
The social aspect of Rugby Social Club has been a hit in 2018, and as the Azzurri prepare to take on Scotland this Saturday, and Castro makes his debut, expect plenty more in the same vein from DMAX.
DMAX is the official Italian broadcaster of the NatWest 6 Nations