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NBC'S RUGBY COVERAGE GOOD NEWS FOR SITTON

While most Tucsonans were enjoying a typical gorgeous mid-February weekend afternoon outdoors, the folks who decided to stay indoors and check out what was on the tube encountered a familiar face broadcasting a largely unfamiliar event on NBC and its local affiliate, KVOA Channel 4.

There was Dave Sitton, decked out in an admittedly obnoxious lime-green NBC shirt, breaking down the nuances of his real sports passion during the Rugby Sevens World Series in Las Vegas.

"This is my 33rd year in some way, shape or form of broadcasting Wildcat athletics. This is my 37th year in (rugby)," Sitton said of his parallel pursuits. "Gosh, this is a pretty good opportunity. It's a great set of circumstances. They wanted an American accent. I've got that and credentials, because I coached and played in eight to nine countries."

It's not the first time Sitton has broadcast rugby-related events, but most of those have been before international audiences via closed-circuit broadcasts. Now he finds himself in a favorable position as NBC searches for niche-sports alternatives.

The traditional American sports model isn't totally breaking down; football, baseball and basketball still get a large chunk of the sports-viewing audience, but organizations such as UFC have vaulted mixed martial arts ahead of boxing; NASCAR's impact has been huge; and the undeniable interest in the X Games has baffled meat-and-potatoes sports fans for more than a decade.

Soccer, which purists have been pimping for 30 years as the next breakout thing, also seems to finally be gaining some traction in the United States. Under that construct, and with recent Olympics acceptance, NBC is hoping rugby can gain a viable American following as well.

"This is going to catch on at some point," said Sitton. "It might happen in six years; it might happen in 20. The Super Bowl, with a stopwatch, featured 16 minutes of action. You had 20 minutes in the Rugby Sevens final, and all 20 was action. ... We are definitely a country that likes to have the ball in our hands, and we like to hit people. Americans don't have much sympathy for a soccer player who falls down and grabs his knee. But these rugby people come out (to the field), and they bash each other, and just go again. Part of our (rugby) culture is not to show you're hurt, ever. That's the last thing you want to do. It's engrained in every rugby player. And when they score a try, the whole thing is to act like you've been there before. There's not this massive celebration, and I think those are endearing qualities to people in America."

As is the case in men's soccer, America's ability to favorably compete in the international rugby community lags. The sport is a mainstay of the New Zealand and Polynesian entertainment diet and carries a significant impact in locales as diverse as Europe and Hong Kong. America has a long way to go to be competitive, but Sitton believes the tide could change in a hurry.

"The first Friday before Labor Day, the NFL cuts 150 world-class athletes who are between 23 and 26 years old," Sitton said. "When we get two nickels to rub together—and NBC Sports is going to help that—if we were to take 85 released linebackers, tight ends and cornerbacks and turn them loose on the (rugby) world, you don't think we'd be a power pretty quickly?"

Sitton would be attending the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand later this year anyway, but he expects to be tied to NBC as part of its broadcast team.

"Between NBC and Universal, I'm told we're going to have every single World Cup match on the air up here this year," Sitton said. "That's not to say we're going to make a dent in the NFL or NASCAR or anything, but there are emerging niche sports."

Considering NBC's connection to the Olympics and rugby's inclusion in the Rio de Janeiro games in 2016, Sitton could possibly be a part of those broadcasts.

"I'm spending every waking moment on that possibility," Sitton said. "For some old fool from Tucson, I think it would be great."


JOURNAL PEGS HOLLY AS NEW OPERATIONS MANAGER

Shaun Holly has been hired as operations manager of Journal Broadcast Group's four-station radio cluster. Holly, who replaces Darla Thomas, will oversee the day-to-day performance of KMXZ FM 94.9, KQTH FM 104.1, KGMG FM 106.3 and KFFN AM 1490.

Holly has roughly a quarter-century of experience in Arizona radio. He spent 18 years in a variety of functions in Phoenix and most recently served an eight-year stint as operations manager for a cluster of stations in Flagstaff.

Holly's first day is slated to be March 14.


KIIM'S JACKSON CRACKS PROGRAM-DIRECTOR TOP 20

Radio Ink Magazine has named KIIM FM 99.5's Buzz Jackson among its Top 20 country-music-station program directors.

Jackson, who was listed at No. 11, said in the article, "Country music is adult, mass-appeal radio. ... Some of our artists are fantastic ambassadors for country music and country radio. But I think we still have an inferiority complex, because we don't get the same kind of attention as Hollywood and pop music do in places like Entertainment Weekly and Access Hollywood. I think as a format we can work harder to get exposure outside the 'traditional' country press without sacrificing what makes us country."

Getting attention from Tucson radio listeners is not a problem. KIIM is the lynchpin radio station in the Citadel cluster (which employs me on sister station KCUB AM 1290 for UA football and men's basketball pregame and postgame coverage), and battles Journal-owned KMXZ 94.9 FM and Clear Channel's KRQQ 93.7 FM for the top spot in pretty much every Tucson radio-ratings cycle.

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