Like many, I taped the Olympics primarily to observe my (other) sport on a big screen, and to skip past features and adverts.
A segment about 1972 standout Olga Korbut, however, was instructive of rugby's 2016 prospects. The Soviet gymnast, whose fresh style and sunny personality created a media sensation, propelled the hitherto little-known sport into the ranks of swimming and track, then as now considered anchor competitions.
Though it is more feasible than ever to televise virtually every discipline, not discovering the next big thing but audience ratings and advertising revenue are television's main goal. The formula which coalesced at those Munich Games hasn't changed much: 1) feature swimming and diving, gymnastics, and track and field along with a few fads (in London, beach volleyball), 2) focus on US medalists, and 3) highlight personalities (preferably American).
For most sports, hopes for exposure turn on the latter two categories. Rugby will be no different. Indeed, the rise of online programming, watched by diehards in real time, has liberated American producers from pretending they are concerned with a broad range of live competition.
The niche of marathon swimming illustrates this dynamic. Prior to its 2008 debut, the 'open water' benchmark was the 25-kilometer (15 1/2 mile) race, but as with the International Rugby Board's campaign for seven-a-side, swimming officials scaled back to the 10K distance in order to be added to the Summer Games. Still, the distance races lack the pool's US stars. Consequently, no prime-time coverage.
Meanwhile, boxing and wrestling are two examples of once-powerful sports that now lack medal contenders, and so have fallen off the prime-time radar.
Of course, America first must qualify for the truncated 12-team field, in a process which has not yet been determined. Otherwise, seven-a-side's prime-time moments may well be limited to glimpse of the haka.