Sevens show the way in USA


The IRB Sevens in Las Vegas may be proof that rugby has a future in the USA, with 30,000 turning up the Saturday.

Working Class Rugger, The Roar

The IRB’s faith in the opportunities to develop the game as a commercial entity in the United States has come to fruition in the form of 64,102 paying customers passing through the gates of last weekend’s Las Vegas stop of the IRB World Sevens Series.

Eclipsing last year’s previous record of just over 52,000, both USA Rugby and USA Sevens LLC (the business that purchased the rights to administer the event) have provided the strongest indicators yet that rugby can in time become a viable commercial entity on a national scale in the USA.

Expanding to a three day event this year to better align itself with NBC’s broadcasting requests, and after drawing a promising 10,200 on the Friday evening, Saturday achieved the largest ever Rugby related attendance in the USA – a touch over 30,000 spectators. This was solidified by a good overall turnout on Sunday.

If you add the 18,000 that turned up in Philadelphia for last year’s College Rugby Championship and the 3-4,000 that turned out to farewell the Eagles in Glendale, rugby in the United States has seen close to 100,000 paying and involved spectators turn out in just three events over a 12 month period.

Early days, yes, but certainly very promising.


In addition, the Sport’s Goods Manufacturing Association produced a survey indicating that more than 1.1 million individuals, with over 300,000 of them being children, participated in rugby in the United States. Rugby is also experiencing growth through ever-evolving and improving college structures, an exploding high school scene and a burgeoning youth sector.

Rugby not only as a sport but as a product (which is paramount to its continued growth in the country) has and hopefully will continue to move forward in a marketplace seen as fundamentally key to the game’s competitive and commercial ambitions.

In addition to this very promising news, a few more very interesting and possibly game changing movements and plans are in the pipeline for the game in the USA (and in many respects Canada).

Firstly, in the days preceding the Las Vegas event, the Tier Two Nations that featured at the recent Rugby World Cup as well as a representative from the IRB met regarding future competitive structures to assist in bridging the gap to the Tier One Nations.

Details have emerged as to what the terms and plans that were agreed to thanks to an interview conducted with the IRB’s Development Manager Mark Egan and Rugbymag’s Alex Goff on the recent Ruggamatrix America podcast.

From next year, a June tournament will come online with the possibility of the resurrection of the Pacific Rim Championship, the precursor tournament to the Pacific Nations Cup. Good news in terms of providing the US with more competition on an annual basis.

Furthermore, in addition to this, both the US and Canada will from as early as this year receive a regular November test window in which to tour. They will very likely receive at least one major European power visiting, with Italy featuring this season and Ireland locked in for 2013.

These are all very exciting developments but not near as intriguing as the next two pieces.

The first, also within Egan’s interview came a few more tentative details regarding news of a potential 15s Professional Competition that I have previously posted about. Well, the IRB have been actively appraised on the development and from what Egan indicates, we will be seeing something very significant in the coming weeks.

Consider this and the talk from the hosts regarding the stature of those involved indicating men of significant means and this proposal appears to have legs in all the right areas.

The second piece also relates to a professional circuit in the US for Rugby, but, in this circumstance it relates to 7s only.

A few years ago, William Tatham Jr purchased the exclusive rights to administer any domestic professional 7s structures in the US from USARugby. Initial plans were to start such an ambitious venture in 2009, then 2010, but nothing eventuated.

Many could have been excused for thinking that the concept died a silent death. Well, it hasn’t.

Like the above developments, efforts are underway to launch the concept.

In Tatham’s case, this means adding the like of Phil Rothenberg to his board. Rothenberg is credited with transforming American Soccer prior to their hosting of the 1994 World Cup and the establishment of the current MLS structure for competition and ownership that has proven so successful for football in the United States.

Details regarding this group are expected very soon as well.

It’s been a huge few weeks following a very big year for the game domestically in the USA.

Add in the residency programs based out of the Chula Vista Olympic training facility for both men’s and women’s athletes, the incoming IRB Women’s 7s Circuit in which the women’s team is extremely competitive and the next few weeks and months could potentially eclipse even US Rugby’s best expectations.

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  1. Reply to Boertjie @ 10:08 am:

    Rugby’s future is dependent on the ‘package’ it can put together commercially which will appeal to a global market.

    The IRB fatcats (with the holy 8 unions/countries in tow) will ensure this will never happen to the 15-man code basically condemning it to the annals of history. The 15-man code is only for an elite few (pretty similar to the Big 5 in SA…)

    The Sevens game has a global appeal. The game is compact and carries with it a festive atmosphere which is perfect not only for crowds attending, but those watching on TV.

  2. Every year this time something will come out on Rugby’s untapped potential for commercial success in the US. The turnout for the LasVegas 7’s can be explained as 1)LasVegas
    2)Only once per year 3)Festival atmosphere drawing on fans world-wide. Every trade show etc gets massive attendance in sin city.
    7’s is a lot like eating cereal. Tastes good but no matter how much I eat, I just don’t feel full.
    7’s in US will become more popular, but in the scheme of things that’s like picking out a specific ant o an anthill and saying “wow that ant is big.” It’s all relative.

  3. Reply to Morné @ 6:36 pm:

    I don’t think it is rugby and I don’t think it competes with rugby any more than any other ball sport, so I don’t really care whether it grows larger or smaller.

    If it serves to promote rugby then good. If it ends up displacing rugby then goodbye. I don’t think it will be able to stand as a sport on it’s own. The games are too short.

  4. Morne jy is mal. I agree with the feeling that sevens is not rugby. You might as well compare tennis with rugby. If sevens is the future of rugby, then I wellcome the Stone age and hope the wheel never gets invented.

    It’s like t20, enterteining and fun to watch, but its just not cricket. You dont need the class and technique of a test player to be good. It might draw bigger crowds than the 5 day game, but it will never replace it.

  5. Reply to Aldo @ 9:02 am:

    Why is it that I state an opinion it is automatically assumed I support it?

    I have said many times I don’t like Sevens, and your analogy of T20 in cricket is pretty much spot on (I hate that too), but it is still cricket, still run by the ICC, played on cricket fields, played by cricketers and watched by cricket fans…

    It has also overtaken test cricket in importance (and commercial value) and Sevens will do exactly the same.

  6. Reply to Morné @ 9:07 am:

    whether we like it or not the money and media will dictate where it ranks like T20 cricket. 7s World series TV rights are growing and the most important part is that it is finding a market in the non traditional rugby countries like Germany and the USA…
    4 winners in the last 5 tournaments in 7s has its own appeal for non traditional rugby nations unlike the elite 15s game that will never really break free of the Top 5 dominance (NZ, SA, AUS, ENG, FRA)
    The Olympics will be the big launch and 7s will take off from there!

  7. Ag jammer Morne. Didnt mean to offend your weepee nerves. Anyway, I hear what you and JT are sying about money and marketing, but in my mind T20 will never be cricket and 7’s will never be anything but entertainment. So no contest between the sports then. Rugby is a 15 man game and 7’s a sideshow. It might eventually be more popular than 15 man rugby, but it will never be rugby.

    What’s this constant bickering about expanding the game anyway? The players play a shitload of rugby as it is, call me an elitist, but I am happy with the way things are with only 5 or 6 teams winning tournaments at the expense of the rest. Add more major nations and rugby will lose its magic, because it will be played by too many players and too many games will be played. You have 2 bok teams, just to keep up with the ever expanding needs of a global fanbase. Nah, I dont buy the crap they feed us about needing to globalise rugby.

  8. Reply to Aldo @ 9:27 am:

    you selfish bastard! fok jou! : bigfinger: Ons will ook deel wees van die rugby hier in Oostenryk maar dit is attitudes soos joune wat die vir ons moeilik maak!

    seriously – expansion of rugby is not about taking something away from the elite but rather see it as spreading the Gospel of rugby to the non believers so they can also fall in love with the game they play in heaven!

  9. Reply to Aldo @ 9:27 am:

    Simple economics Aldo.

    If rugby does not expand and include major countries (read economies) the game will die off completely, and you won’t even have the 5 or 6 teams to watch anymore.

    It is not about how many games are played, it is how the game strategically aligns itself commercially to compete in an ever increasing entertainment market.

    At some stage you and I will have to face we are a dying breed. Rugby cannot rely on us anymore, they have to engage the new/next breed of supporter and they my friend loves everything compact, simple and fan-fair(ish) – T20 and Sevens…

  10. One sobering thought.
    Not scientifically done, but in a recent
    on-line poll readers were asked their

    From memory the figures were:
    Test cricket 67%
    50/50 23%
    T20 10%

    Sevens taken away from George
    only drew some 8,000 in PE.

  11. Reply to Boertjie @ 10:38 am:

    I am always very apprehensive on surveys such as those.

    Problem you sit with crowd attendance figures in T20 far outweighs that of test cricket. They also draw the largest TV audiences (and that is where the problem lies).

    Sports bodies, unions and clubs need to pay professional sportsmen and women, for that they need money, and lots of it – money they get from mainly (I would guess well over 60%) from television networks buying the rights to show games.

    Another point, comparing the ‘growth’ of Sevens against that of a 15-man code in Aldo’s so-called elitist countries like South Africa will not give you any indication on how the game is growing globally.

    Simple fact is this, the Sevens game is increasing exponentially in numbers every single year while the 15-man code’s numbers are going down…

  12. Well, I don’t mind the IRB and ICC
    selling shit to the masses to make
    money to keep real rugby and cricket
    going for the connoisseurs.

  13. Reply to Boertjie @ 1:17 pm:

    It is a weird situation for me, I don’t begrudge the pro player and many of them like Mauritz Botha played rugby to play rugby and it just so happened that he was spotted and made it into the top level and now is living the dream!! :applause:

    However some Pro’s that came straight from school into a pro team and nurtured from the beginning lacks that rugby ethos IMO, what happens when that type of pro drops out, will he play on for the love of it at amateur level or will he “retire”? One of my players is 44 and he can’t stop playing until his farther in-law stops playing (he is 63 and still playing!)

  14. The gist of the article is that sevens is helping to make rugby more popular. That is a good thing. Even if sevens grow larger than rugby in the process, it would not be a problem if real rugby also grows as a result.

    The headline, “Sevens shows the way..”, does not make sense. There is nothing that could be translated from the format of sevens that could be useful for rugby.

    What is sevens pointing to that rugby could follow?
    The travelling circus format? – Rugby games are too long. Less players, more running? – League has that wrapped up.

  15. Reply to Morné @ 6:10 pm:

    The list would be interesting.

    Bet it’s a lot shorter than the the list of players that progressed from high school.
    I’ll also bet that almost all sevens players were schooled in the 15 man game first.

    The SA players that I know of, that came via sevens seem to do really well in CC-sans-Boks but fail at SR level.
    The space they exploited on the sevens field is simply not there any more. Too many big AND fast guys.
    Then perhaps sevens harmed their development by teaching them a style of play that is not feasible at the highest levels.

  16. Reply to Timeo @ 7:08 pm:

    I will find an article I read a year ago about which pro players started out as pro players on the Sevens circuit… It made for fascinating reading – two names that I immediately recall was Cullen and Lomu.

  17. Cullen and Lomu? Rugby wasnt even pro when they played sevens. I also believe they made their names on the proper 15 man game before they played sevens. I tend to agree with Timeo on this, the players return from the sevens scene a lot less rounded player than they were before going on the sevens party tour.

    Look I respect the work sevens players put in, they are very fit, but I dont believe it to be a stepup to 15 man rugby. These days you are either a rg man player or sevens.

  18. Reply to Timeo @ 7:08 pm:

    And of course more players start out in the 15-man code, it takes precedence even at school level as you will know.

    But also just look how many club and school Sevens tournaments have started in recent years…

    An interesting note – the CPT Tens this year (I know not Sevens but also a compact version of the game) attracted a larger paying crowd than the PE Sevens…

  19. I really wished they banned 7’s and went to 10’s instead.
    More action vs the break-aways that allow the guy to moonwalk to the try-zone.
    I will email the olympic committee regarding this. My expectation being that they will be very apologetic and responsive to my concerns.

  20. Reply to Morné @ 6:10 pm:

    Since there is an abundance of space on a sevens field, I cannot see how it will improve a player’s ability to exploit much less of the same commodity when playing rugby.

    If your aim is to hit a small faraway target would you practice up close to a big one?
    I’d say rather the other way around.

  21. I’m not too hot about the Olympics either. It is already over loaded with minor sports vying for limited broadcast time.

    Perhaps people do not realize that the TV feed going to each country is different. Broadcasters focus on sports that already appeal to their publics. SA and NZ will be watching Sevens whilst the Americans get Basketball and Baseball and the Germans Soccer. Chances to expose your sport to a wider are very limited

  22. ..wider audience…

    In the USA the priorities of NBC will be like this:

    1. The big track events and other sports where the USA has gold medal chances.
    2. Sport that appeals to women. ie. Figure skating.
    3. Beach volleyball.
    4. Anything where they can explore a “human angle”. ie. Athletes with terminal diseases or personal tragedies to dwell on ad nauseum.

    Rugby may perhaps get some prime-time exposure if Joost makes a comeback as captain and Francois Pienaar is the manager, but it will be only little edited snippets of action as background to a 60-min interview with Morgan Freeman.