Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
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?
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)
Wake Med Soccer Park (Cary, NC)
Mike A. Myers Stadium (Austin, TX)
Plaster Sports Complex (Springfield, MO)
Titan Stadium (Fullerton, CA)
Walter J. Zable Stadium (Williamsburg, VA)
Buck Shaw Stadium (Santa Clara, CA)
Potential Championship Sites
Columbus Crew Stadium (Columbus, OH)
Alex G. Spanos Stadium (San Luis Obispo,CA)
Delaware Stadium (Newark, Delaware)
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.