Rugby Sevens – fast and furious and the future of rugby?
Famed for the carnival atmosphere and exciting showcase, the new look HSBC Sevens World Series kicks off on Australia’s Gold Coast this weekend. Rugby Sevens is becoming hugely popular due to it’s simplicity and fast paced action. Rugby is reinstated into the Olympics in it’s rugby sevens form from 2016. The opportunity to represent your country in the Olympics and compete for a gold medal is proving to be a strong catalyst for sevens. The last time rugby featured as an Olympic event was in Paris 1924. The current rugby gold medalists – the United States.
There are nine global destinations on the HSBC World Series with Japan as the latest addition. Rugby is proving popular in Asia, with an 18% rise in participation numbers since 2007. The I.R.B. strategically invest over $3m annually into the development and growth of rugby within Asia. The powers that be must see considerable potential for return on their investment which culminates in Japan hosting the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Further evidence of the explosive growth of rugby sevens can be seen in the United States. In 2009, the Sevens World Series, U.S. leg, was held in San Diego. The revenue generated from staging the event, was $630,000. A year later and a new venue in Las Vegas, the event generated in excess of $17m. Without question, there is a healthy appetite for rugby sevens.
Working alongside broadcasters NBC, USA Sevens has developed a televised collegiate rugby sevens championship (C.R.C.). The model is based on brand recognition as opposed to seedings. This means that the best teams do not necessarily receive an invitation for the rugby sevens tournament, but the teams who NBC and USA Sevens decide have the strongest collegiate brands and can attract fans, are invited to the Championship. Not a perfect system but certainly one that could prove very effective in raising the awareness of the sport. As a foreigner in the U.S., it is hard not to notice the incredibly strong connection people share with their respective colleges. Alumni loyalty is very apparent and the branding of sevens rugby through well known U.S. colleges makes a lot of sense.
United States Olympic Committee is expected to announce it’s funding towards rugby sevens this week. It is widely expected that this is the first step towards professional rugby contracts in America. Athletes will be based at the Olympic Training Centre in Chula Vista, CA. The U.S.A. boasts a very proud and successful Olympic history in many events. I fully expect that by 2016, the Americans will be aiming for gold in rugby sevens.
More signs of growth in sevens rugby is reflected in the new sponsorship deal with HSBC. Previously, the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) have been very visible in the world of golf and will undoubtedly continue to do so. However, the attraction of sponsoring rugby as an Olympic sport paved the way for a multi million dollar, 5 year deal between HSBC and the I.R.B.
With one eye on the 2016 Olympics, the Welsh Rugby Union has set a precedent by signing 12 core rugby sevens players. This is the first time that the WRU has contracted core players to play specific tournaments throughout the year. By doing this the WRU hope to develop some consistency within their rugby sevens system.
Rugby sevens is undergoing huge growth and will continue to do so. Developing rugby nations such as the U.S. utilize a non contact, fast paced version of rugby called Flag Rugby. Known as Tag Rugby in Ireland & the U.K., flag rugby is proving to be the perfect way to introduce new comers to the world of rugby. Flag rugby seems to be the natural stepping stone to sevens rugby. There is some concern that rugby sevens and 15s rugby will become two separate entities and this may well prove the case.
One thing is for sure, Rugby Sevens is going to get a lot bigger….
Gavin Hickie, The LineoutCoach, is a former Ireland 7s, Leinster and Leciester rugby player now based in California and taking rugby to the USA. He writes for RugbyMag.com and other publications when not coaching for Belmont Shore and blogging on lineoutcoach.com