A GoffonRugby Opinion Column by Alex Goff
Back from Las Vegas, and a few thoughts from this year's USA 7s and Las Vegas Invitational:
I know it's not the Super Bowl, but the attendance at the USA 7s was one of the mot astounding things I have seen in American rugby. I have never seen anywhere that many people gather in one place to see rugby on American soil.
Just about every year, the USA 7s has improved attendance. The trend has always been upward, from about 15,800 (over two days) in 2004 to 36,600 in 2010. That's an average increase of 22%. But from 2010 to 2011 the attendance increased a whopping 36%. Since moving the Vegas, the USA 7s attendance has increased almost 70%.
So, yes, that's pretty amazing.
The USA 7s also ramped up the fun, with an in-crowd announcer Matt McCarthy, a short performance by Cirque du Soleil, and some musical acts, too.
The USA 7s Festival, which was set up to be part of the stadium enclosure, expanded and allowed fans to stretch their legs and do some other fun things without leaving the stadium.
Some teams confessed early on Saturday to being aprehensive about playing four games in one day. They did OK, though, and really only one team seemed to fade particularly badly in the Cup Quarterfinals, and that was Argentina.
As for holding the Cup Final before the Shield, Bowl, and Plate ... well it didn't seem the take the momentum out of the final, and the fans stayed to see the other matches (rather than run off to get a beer before the Big Game).
It could be that after careful review the IRB might recommend no more four-game days ... we'll see. But judging from what IRB CEO Mike Miller told me (see upcoming RuggaMatrix interview), I don't think so.
Awesome fans, lots of great costumes. People behaved well. No field invasion after the Cup Final. They were boisterous, they were enthusiastic, and they made it all work.
Well the turf needed a lot of care. Those watching on TV might have missed the platoon of groundkeepers going on the field after each game to fill in divots and pick up detritus.
What was with New Zealand holding a team meeting in-goal when their game was over? USA was trying to beat Uruguay and the New Zealanders were on the field. Not cool.
Player space - actually this was improved from last year, as the tournament set up improved areas for food and recovery.
Why Does This All Matter?
Because if you want more people playing rugby, if you want sponsors for your club, if you want to get your club on local TV, if you want to see your national team win an Olympic Medal, if you want more rugby on network television ... the USA 7s and other American rugby events have to be successful.
The USA 7s is the big one. It's an international rugby tournament, and if it's profitable, lots of other good things can happen to the sport. And once the sport gets more notice, more legitimacy, and more commercial heft, then anyone associated with rugby can get more done.
So With That in Mind
TV Ratings. USA 7s on NBC pulled a 0.7 rating both days, which is more than 800,000 viewers. Does that sound modest? Well consider that from 2007-2009 the NHL All-Star Game averaged a 0.77 rating. It's a start, a good start, and something that can only get better if we support it.
Oh and finally ... readers know I am a sucker for a photo that makes the ball appear to float in mid-air like it's some sort of tiny spaceship. This one from Dobson Images: