Last week was the third year of the USA leg of the HSBC Rugby Sevens World Series in Las Vegas
In spectacular fashion, the tournament culminated in a showdown between southern hemisphere rivals New Zealand and Samoa – with Samoa clinching the 26-19 win after reigning champs, the All-Blacks, tied it up at 19-19 and forced it down to the very last play (something all NFL fans can appreciate). The weekend was notable for several reasons: previously proclaimed “dark horse” teams were able to break through to the Cup round – demonstrating that a lot can happen in 14 minutes – and a crowd of 30,323 on Saturday were the largest to ever watch an international rugby match in the USA, indicating that this is a sport that will continue to gain in popularity in the lead-up to the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
All in all, there were 45 international games played out over the course of the 3-day tournament as 16 teams from around the world competed for series points. Simultaneously, the stadium also played host to the USA Sevens women’s series matches and the Las Vegas Invitational amateur tournament. For anybody who had never watched a sevens game before, this was a crash course that showcased the best of the best.
Las Vegas is the perfect venue for a tournament of this nature
Rugby sevens is a game known for its speed and agility on the field but also for its atmosphere off the field. Costumes are not only welcome but encouraged and the jovial nature of the crowd is unlike any other – you will not see any soccer-style riots here. The games are fast-paced (over after 2 tauntingly short 7 minute halves) and as such, well-suited to the festive mood of the fans. Essentially, there is something for everybody and the diversity of attendees was something you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else, neither families nor groups of men on stag weekends were out of place. Having attended last year’s Edinburgh stage of the HSBC Sevens World Series circuit there were a few aspects of the Las Vegas tournament that could use some work. Interaction with the crowd between games was almost non-existent aside from a few ill-advertised and poorly promoted contests. The tournament in Edinbugh featured two local personalities as tournament emcees and they did a great job of rallying the crowd pre-and post-game, something I found to be lacking in Las Vegas. Additionally, there were far more opportunities in Edinburgh for player-crowd interaction as standing room was provided on either end of the field and seating began at field level.
The commercial potential of Rugby Sevens
That being said, if well-marketed in North America, sevens rugby could be what arena football never was. It is, undoubtedly, a spectator sport. The size and speed of the players is impressive, it is a fast game and you must be able to withstand and make a tackle while at a full-out sprint. This is a contact sport and the athleticism is impressive. For those who have not witnessed the much slower union and league styles of rugby this is the sport in overdrive. Countries such as Canada and the United States are getting considerably greater opportunities to prove themselves on the world stage as Canada’s win over Australia demonstrated that nations traditionally steeped in rugby culture may not always have the upper hand. The sport is highly entertaining but it felt at times that tournament organizers were too reliant on this – if sevens rugby is to truly appeal to the masses it must provide more than a poorly organized dance team between games. In future, organizers might consider adding sponsor contests and giveaways. In Las Vegas anything goes and it seems that this tournament has the potential to truly capitalize on this – where were the fireworks? It was only on the third day that we realized there was a “festival” set up just outside the stadium with live music and food vendors. Spending an entire day at the field can get exhausting for even the most avid of fans and having something else for people to see and do for a while is a welcome break. Overall, the tournament delivered what people came to see – three days of hard-hitting action just outside of what is arguably the entertainment capital of North America. If the snippets of conversation overheard in the stands are any indication, there were many first-timers in attendance that will happily make it an annual trip. For those who did not make it out to the event, NBC did a great job with the broadcast, breaking down plays to explain the rules and providing definitions of rugby terminology. Additionally, the three day format was exclusively for television purposes as other than the tournament in Hong Kong all other events in the series are only two days of games. For the 64, 551 fans in attendance over the weekend it was an experience that only promises to get better year after year.
Did anyone else attend the HSBC Rugby Sevens tournament in Las Vegas? If so please leave your reviews of the tournament here or tweet us!