Rugby America

Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective

Possible Tourney Sites for Expanded Collegiate 7’s Series

Last week someone made a comment in one of the article threads regarding what sites could be in the running to host tournaments on a possible Collegiate 7’s Series next year. It sounded like a great subject to tackle, so the wheels were set in motion.

I wrote a similar article a couple years ago regarding possible locations for the Churchill Cup when it was announced that the entire tournament would be hosted on American soil. I had alot of fun looking into different venues and a couple of them came true. Can I do it again?

As the dust settles on the first every Collegiate 7’s Championship, thoughts now point towards next year and what may lie on the horizon for Collegiate 7’s. I can’t help but envision an expanded series of qualifying tournaments for the 2011 Collegiate 7’s Championship.

No doubt, you’ve already heard that NBC and the USA 7’s weren’t exactly happy with Columbus and that a handful of suitors are already lining up to host the next championship. The tournament was exciting, well played, and broadcast to the highest standard.

It’s no surprise to hear that a line is  already forming to host the event in 2011. It is a great concept and it has NBC’s backing, something that few other rugby events can boast. A Collegiate 7’s series could grow into something very special.

With the prospects of four qualifying tournaments in the queue for 2011 that means a total of five locations could be in line for hosting rights.

There are a few major questions that need to be asked when discussing possible sites for the 2011 Collegiate 7’s Championship.

One major subject that I’m not going to cover is the time of year that the championship will take place. There is much debate right now as to whether it will push further into the summer or up into the spring and create a conflict with 15’s.

I could go on and on about the pros and cons of each choice, so I’ll save that for another time and place. I’ve said it before in other articles, the tournament and series will end up wherever NBC wants it to fall, because they are going to be the driving force behind the project. They’re going to place it in the best position to draw crowds and make money.

Whether or not to use a college town for a location is another question to start with and it leads into the question of whether to use football or soccer facilities.

The upside of the college town is the built-in fan base. Columbus shouldn’t be used as a measuring stick for this debate as school was nearly finished when the CCI came to town. Yeah… yeah, I said I wasn’t going to start the time of year debate. But, if you’re going with a college town, an earlier spring date will make better use of the student body.

The downside of the college town is the lack of suitably sized stadiums. The big college towns have massive football stadiums which aren’t  conducive to less than capacity crowds. We’ve seen how thin the stands at Rentschler Field (UConn Football Stadium) look with 8,000 fans for an Eagles match. Not a pretty site and that’s a smaller collegiate football field.

Maybe someday, but rugby isn’t there yet.

On the same train of thought, collegiate soccer facilities may be the ticket for the qualifying tournaments. While not the same level of facilities that a MLS stadium posess, they will come at a much lower price tag and still give Collegiate 7’s the opportunity to tap into the college fan base right at the source.

Until college 7’s establishes itself and proves it’s drawing power, keeping the qualifying rounds to more modest digs may be a neccesity for financial success of the venture. Lower costs, lower overhead, and cheaper ticket costs are just a few of the items needed to brew up a successful tournament. Not too low though… it still needs to be a professional level event.

Keeping the tournaments on campus may also be in the cards in the future. Even though Crew Stadium is in Columbus and near Ohio State, it isn’t on campus and less likely to draw casually interested college students.

Now, on the flip side, they could choose to look outside of college towns thus opening themselves up to a myriad of very fine high level soccer facilities. You could pick pretty much any MLS stadium and it will be a more than serviceable venue for a sevens tournament.

But, I really like the idea of tying the Collegiate 7’s brand to colleges. This is where I believe USA Rugby’s management of 15’s has struck out so many times over the years with playoff matches held off-campus.

There are some bigger rugby markets in America that could put up better numbers attendance-wise than a college town. But how much better in the short term? The average rugby crowd for an American event seems to run around 6,000-10,000 no matter where it is located. That even includes California for those that seem to believe that every event should be held on the West Coast.

Is a few thousand fans really worth pulling college rugby away from college markets? Markets that may be able to bear even more fruit after some cultivating?

I don’t think so.

It would be different if the American rugby community had a proven track record of filling stands. But we don’t, so why not go with venues located in areas with more potential for the long run? Long term strategy has to transcend the rugby community and look towards touching all sports fans. Without them, crowd sizes will never reach the levels needed to put rugby in the spotlight aside from Olympic years.

So, what to look for in a host site?

  • A stadium in a mid to major metropolitan market with preferable close ties to a collegiate market.
  • A stadium with a minimum set of facilities… locker rooms for teams, media, concessions, etc.
  • Stadium capacity in the 6,000-15,000 range for the qualifying tournaments and something in the 15,000-20,000+ range for the championship.

With the above in mind, let’s look at some possible suitors.

I’m going on the premise of there being four regional qualifying tournaments followed by a championship. I’ve heard rumors about a varying number of qualifiers, but four seems to be the most logical choice at this juncture.  Nothing has been confirmed for 2011, so this is all speculation at this point.

The final choice of sites may ultimately be determined by the time of year the series and championship is played. If they choose spring, we could very well see warmer weather choices played earlier in the spring. If it ends up in the summer, then more northern cities will be in contention.

I have attempted to put together a good cross-section of venues that fit the above features. I have no idea whether any of them are actually in contention to host any collegiate 7’s. This is merely a theoretical list. But, if one of them pop up on the list… you heard it here first.

Don’t be surprised if at least one of them do at some point. I picked Columbus Crew Stadium a couple years ago as a venue that was prime to get a big rugby event. Although, I will say that I stepped out of the box a little bit extra with some of my choices. While rugby on campus has been going on for ages, the idea of hosting major rugby events on campus is fairly uncommon. At this point it is a pretty blank slate.

The venues are listed in no particular order.

Potential Qualifying Tournament Sites

Joseph J. Morrone Stadium (Storrs, CT)

  • Opened in 1994, Morrone Stadium serves as the home of the University of Connecticut soccer and lacrosse teams. With a capacity of 8,574 Morrone Stadium is a realistic option. Recent renovations include a a state-of-the-art scoreboard and message center, new bleachers, and one of the top press boxes in the country. UConn isn’t a rugby power, but the location of the stadium puts it in a decent position to cater to a qualifying tournament bringing in teams from the Eastern Midwest/Northeast area of the country.

Wake Med Soccer Park (Cary, NC)

  • Home to the Carolina Railhawks professional soccer team, Wake Med Park also serves as a home field for the NC State Soccer teams. Opened in 2002 at a cost of $14.5 million, it has played host to the ACC Soccer Tournament and NCAA College Cup. The main stadium seats 6,883 and is expandable to 10,000 with temporary seating. Wake Med Soccer Park is one of my top choices as a potential regional host as it sits on prime collegiate frenzy real estate. The stadium is located almost smack dab in between NC State, Duke, and The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Three heated collegiate rivalries renowned for their sports crazy student bodies.

Mike A. Myers Stadium (Austin, TX)

  • Nestled on the campus of The University of Texas, Mike A. Myers Stadium is a $13 million, 20,000 seat venue that serves as the home to the Longhorns track & field and soccer teams. Opened in 2002, the stadium has hosted the 2002 Womens NCAA Soccer Championship, the 2004 NCAA Men & Womens Track & Field Championship, and various Big 12 Conference events. The ESPN Gameday Crew has even set up shop in the Stadium for their football broadcasts. You can’t get much better than a stadium located on The University of Texas campus, but with it being set up for track, the distance from the playing field may be an issue for fans that are used to more intimate settings. The size may also be a bit big for a qualifying tournament, but the location may be too much to resist. Mike A. Myers Stadium could be a dark horse hosting site.

Plaster Sports Complex (Springfield, MO)

  • Desperately in need of a venue in middle-America, Plaster Sports Complex came up on the radar. Plaster Sports Complex is a 16,600 seat complex that is the home of the Missouri State University football, soccer, and track & field teams. The venue isn’t a big college brand, but the quality of the facilities cannot be denied. Probably a big long-shot, but worth noting because the lack of modestly sized venues on colleges campuses in the Midwest.

Titan Stadium (Fullerton, CA)

  • Titan Stadium is a 10,000 seat stadium on the campus of Cal State Fullerton. Originally planned to house the University football team, the stadium became a soccer facility when the University cut their football program in 1992. Set in Southern California, the stadium is a lower cost option than the Home Depot Center and sticks with the theme of keeping the tournament on a college campus.

Walter J. Zable Stadium (Williamsburg, VA)

  • Home to the William & Mary football and track & field teams, Zable Stadium boasts everything great about college stadiums, but on a much smaller scale. Located in the middle of the very scenic campus of William & Mary, the stadium seats 12,259 fans. The venue size is perfect for a qualifying tournament, as is the location which is centrally located for teams all along the eastern seaboard. It is also just under a two hour drive from Washington D.C. and one of the greatest concentrations of rugby players in America. Opened in 1935, Zable Stadium has that nostalgic, old school-college feel that might play well with the time honored game of rugby.

Buck Shaw Stadium (Santa Clara, CA)

  • No stranger to rugby events, Buck Shaw Stadium played host to the Eagles/Ireland test match in 2009 as well as hosting Churchill Cup matches in 2006. The stadium capacity is 10,300 and is the current home of the Santa Clara Broncos soccer teams and the San Jose Earthquakes of the MLS.  Opened in 1962, the stadium has went through multiple facelifts to it’s current state. The fact that the stadium has prior rugby experience is nothing to look past as rugby venues tend to repeat themselves in America every 2-3 years.

Potential Championship Sites

Columbus Crew Stadium (Columbus, OH)

  • It would be a mistake to rule out Columbus for at least one more crack at hosting the Championship. Weather did a number on the weekend as well as going head to head against a major local event that has been entrenched on that particular weekend. Another year, a different weekend and it could be an entirely different story for the town. It cannot be overlooked that Crew Stadium is the only MLS level stadium that is located in a college community. There are some that are in the vicinity, but Crew Stadium is right there in the midst of one of the largest student body populations in America. Ohio State is also a major college sports brand name. I think NBC and USA 7’s will have to take a long look before moving the championship.

Alex G. Spanos Stadium (San Luis Obispo,CA)

  • Formerly known as Mustang Stadium, the 11,075 seat complex is home to the Cal Poly football and soccer teams. While that number is a bit on the low side for a championship event, the stadium is currently under construction to expand seating to 22,000 at a project cost of almost $20 million. Construction is expected to be completed this year which opens the venue up for a possible 2011 hosting date with Collegiate 7’s. Upon completion of the construction, Spanos Stadium will be the largest stadium on California’s Central Coast. Cal Poly also boasts something that many of the choices don’t have. That being a pretty darn good rugby program.

Delaware Stadium (Newark, Delaware)

  • Erected in 1952 and enlarged prior to the 1964, 1970, 1972 and the 1975 seasons, the 22,000-seat stadium is the largest in the Atlantic 10 Conference and home to the University of Delaware football team. The stadium has also hosted the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship on two occassions. Recent additions to the stadium include a 42 foot wide HD video scoreboard and replacement of the playing surface with field-turf. Another stadium that may be a very big long shot, but one that fits the bill quite well.

I am absolutely certain that there are more players in the running for hosting rights in 2011. Some of which will not have any ties to a college campus. The various MLS Stadiums across the nation are likely contenders as they seem to be some of the top choices for rugby events these days. Even though they may come at a much higher price tag.

After coming up short on their bid to host a leg of the Bledisloe Cup, I’m willing to bet that the Denver Sports Commission is in the picture. Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, located just outside of Denver, is rugby friendly and a excellent venue.

Pizza Hut Park in Texas is another MLS Stadium that has been more than willing to host alternative events. They have played host to NCAA Soccer events and recently announced that it signed on to host the 2010-2012 NCAA Fooball Championship Subdivision (formerly D1-AA) Championship.

Rio Tinto Stadium in Utah could be another player in the picture. Another rugby friendly stadium, Rio Tinto put up some pretty good attendance numbers for the High School championship this past spring and that may not go unnoticed.

I could probably go one for days with this discussion, but I’ll stop here. The list above highlights some of the sites that could host tournaments. Now, it’s just a waiting game to see how many qualifying tournaments pop up and where they are hosted.

I’m excited to see the future of Collegiate 7’s, but I’m almost just as interested in seeing the game expand to areas and venues that are new to rugby. Going with the old favorites and safe bets is always an option, but that may not be what is needed to break through with the sport.

Who know’s? Maybe one of the sites listed above is a goldmine waiting to be discovered.

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3 comments on “Possible Tourney Sites for Expanded Collegiate 7’s Series

  1. ajax
    June 30, 2010

    Timing is a real issue, I would think. You have to remember that for most of the schools involved, rugby is not a varsity sport. The players get little to no special consideration in their academics/exams. Ohio State, for example, was still in session during the CCI and the players had finals in the week immediately after the tournament. As for regional playoffs, you have the same issue, as well as the problem of conflicts with XV’s.

  2. Matt DeBarr
    June 30, 2010

    I like the idea of 4 qualifying tournaments and using smaller stadiums. I think that a 5,000 to 10,000 seat stadium would be a good fit. My votes for the East, West, North and South would all be located in or next to big college towns at their soccer stadiums if they have them.

    For the West I’d go to Stanford. Not sure what facilities they have there but I’m sure they’re amazing… anything related to Stanford usually is.

    Mike Myers stadium in Texas for the South is a perfect fit. Its a little big, but on one of the largest universities with one of the largest student populations in the country.

    For the North, I think I’d change my vote, I think I’d move the qualifier to Columbus. BUT I would move it on campus to the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, which is home to the soccer and lacrosse teams. It seats 10,000 people and I think it would be a perfect fit if its during the school year. Again, its on a HUGE college campus with an enormous student population. the city of Columbus also has a decent sized population. about 2 million people live in the metro area.

    In the East, I’m split between having it in Boston or North Carolina. I think if you can find a 5,000 seat outdoor stadium on BC’s campus then that’s where you have it. It would be within driving distance of 20,000 CIPP’d players and on a gorgeous college campus. If not, I like the idea of having it in North Carolina in between, Duke, NC, and Wak forest Universities. Good choice.

    For the championship match I would move it to Chicago and play at the Chicago Fire’s Toyota Park. Toyota Park is another beautiful, state-of-the-art soccer facility. Chicago has international flavor, a good diverse and HUGE population, its in a great location, has a remarkable night-life so you would get people to travel there. And USA rugby statistics show that Illinois Youth Rugby Association has over 1700 youth rugby players which is pretty darn good. So there are some local ruggers that should make the trip as well.

    That or you move the North qualifier from Columbus to Blain Minnesota which is home to the National Sports Center which holds 12,000 and hosts the US Women’s soccer team. Its just outside Minneapolis and St Paul which is next to another HUGE College town… Minnesota. Then you keep the championship in Columbus at Crew stadium and give them one more chance.

    Eeither way, its fun to think about.

  3. Pete
    July 1, 2010

    I would suggest staying away from stadiums that feature turf fields (Zable) or stadiums that have tracks around them. It seems that Utah or somewhere in the Bay Area would be great for the finals based on history of crowds that turn out in those areas. I don’t think you need to worry about having a 20,000 seat stadium for the finals, when was the last 20,000 turned out for anything rugby in this country? Start small with a 5,0000 to 10,000 seat stadium for the final (if you need to bring in temp seating for one sideline, so be it) and smaller stadiums for the regional finals, like 2,000-4,000. Generally college soccer stadiums fit this bill.

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This entry was posted on June 29, 2010 by in Club Sevens, College Rugby.

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