Rugby America

Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective

Grand Prix Rugby: Another Step Closer

by Ted Hardy

I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end – Margaret Thatcher

These very words hold true as rugby fans in the United States and beyond have followed the progress of Grand Prix Rugby for what has seemed like ages. Actually, it has been quite some time. This competition has been nearly ten years in the making and has had multiple aborted launch dates in that time span. These delays often led to unrest amongst rugby fans who wondered if the project would ever come to fruition.

The good news is that it is inching ever so closer with roughly 224 days left before the tournament goes live. The next phase of Grand Prix Rugby’s competiton kicked off yesterday with the launch of their Official competition website and tickets to the event going on sale. This is another checkoff moment, for the upstart event, to go along with announcements in the Spring regarding their deal with the NFL Network for TV coverage of the event and signing The Home Depot Center as the venue for their $1,000,000 championship.

While Grand Prix’s concrete plans beyond this event remain unknown, there is hope that this event will eventually spawn a more robust competition that will fit into the Summer window after completion of the IRB World Series season.

Set to be played July 12-14, 2013 at The Home Depot Center in Los Angeles, the Grand Prix Championship could give the USA not one, but two very high profile international rugby 7’s events. With the growing success of the USA Sevens leg of the IRB World Series, there is reason to remain positive about the prospects of the Grand Prix Rugby Championship. As we’ve seen with the growth of the USA Sevens… great things happen once you start putting people in the stands.

Details on the pools, team rosters, and other such things are still a ways off. In the meantime, let us take a look at some of the things we do know about the competition and speculate on what some of it may mean for the competition.

The winning team takes home $1,000,000. The most lucrative cash prize of any tournament in the world. Not sure if there are any prizes for 2nd or 3rd place and beyond. From what I’ve heard… there isn’t. This is winner takes all. This is sure to draw the attention of all unions. Most sevens programs don’t receive the same funding of their 15’s counterparts. Even programs like South Africa, England, and New Zealand could use this type of money. Someone like Kenya, who realistically has a shot, could do wonders with a million extra dollars in their coffer.

The interesting side note to the participating unions will be what types of teams they send. The tournament is well enough away from the IRB season to give some top players rest and still allow them to compete. With a million dollars at stake, it would be hard to imagine any nation not sending a team capable of winning.

The tournament format is going to be 24 teams, likely in six pools of four teams. This is the same format that is used in Hong Kong. Personally, I am a huge fan of the 24 team format. Hong Kong is one of the best tournaments on the World Series for many reasons and the expanded format is a refreshing change from the 16 team standard. The field currently includes commitments from four American teams (more on that to follow), Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada (grrr), England, Fiji, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Tonga, Wales.

This list may or may not be the final list of teams. I’ve seen another list without Germany or Italy, so I guess we’ll see. At first glance, the tournament has all of the favorites save for Samoa which is an interesting exclusion.  Again, the list may not be finalized and Samoa may be working out the details.

The expanded field also allows organizers to take flyers on lesser known teams for developmental and marketing purposes. The inclusion of Brazil, Germany and India in the tournament field is sure to draw some eyes. Brazil is an obvious choice given they are hosting the 2016 Olympics and will almost assuredly have a team in the rugby competition. India is a very interesting selection, but with an enourmous population this could be a stab at tapping into a new market. Along those same lines, it is surprising not to see China in the field.

While pool play should be fairly standard, the knockout rounds will likely take a turn from what people have come to expect on the IRB circuit. With the focus solely on winning the $1,000,000 don’t expect to see Shield, Bowl, and Plate competitions break off from the pack. What you’re likely to see is the top 8-10 teams from pool play drawn into a single knockout bracket… winner takes all. It is possible that the knockout stage could be expanded to 16 teams, but that would mean seven games (over three days) for the teams that reach the final. Ouch! Using 16 teams would certainly add to the drama, so don’t be surprised to see it.

Something else to consider is that these teams are being considered independent franchises and will not be held to the same player restrictions as they are on the IRB World Series. The unions or owners entering the teams can run them how they deem fit. This could make for some interesting scenarios if some of the unions decide to treat their entries as such and not bind them to national team restrictions.

With that in mind, let us get back to the four American teams. Yes, four American teams in the competition. We already know of the New York franchise rights that were sold in the Spring to a NY business woman.  There hasn’t been any further word about other franchises, but at this point in the game there are likely three other cities picked out to serve as home to teams (at least in name for merchandising purposes).

Now, you may be asking yourself… four teams? Our national team is currently on the bubble as a core team on the IRB series and we’re going to field four teams? And have a chance at winning? Crazy talk.

Here is where mighty Samoa comes into play. You don’t really think players from Samoa (or Fijiaans living in America) are going to miss out on this do you? If Samoa is not fielding a team in the competition, someone is going to call upon their many fine players.

Throw in Samoan national team players, some Fijiaans, and maybe a few other worldly veteran sevens players (cough… Ben Gollings… cough), fill it out with the very best American players, and you have four teams that will be on the radar of every team in the field. We have talented players, but often miss a piece or two to really make the team gel.

Keep in mind, that this is purely speculation based on what little is known about the competition. It is interesting to think about though. After this long, it appears as if the clock is ticking and soon speculation and debate will turn into reality.

224 days…

 

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19 comments on “Grand Prix Rugby: Another Step Closer

  1. AJAX
    December 1, 2012

    Sorry, but this sounds like a continuation of the failing ( in terms of US player development strategy) USARUGBY has been following for years. Nice for the folks who stand to make money out of it, but not terribly useful in terms of long term development of US players or US rugby.

    • RugbyAmerica
      December 1, 2012

      Thanks for posting.

      I think it is important to remember that USA Rugby is not running this event, although they do sanction it. The organizers are business people that are going to optimize their chances to make money. More money equals more events. More money in the sport will have a trickle down effect. The development rugby in the USA will receive from an event like this will be mostly secondary or tertiary. Providing another international level event for our players. Raising awareness, more tv time, getting more people interested in the sport, etc.

      It is also important to remember some of this is just speculation based on info that is out there. We all know Americans love following a winner and our 7’s pool will struggle to field four international level squads without help. USA Rugby may have something in place to guarantee roster spots to all USA eligible players. All the American teams could also be pooled together to guarantee one of them reaches the cup round.

      All of this should be answered in the coming months. July will come up real fast.

      • Ajax
        December 1, 2012

        Sorry, but just about everything you say confirms my initial opinion. The “trickle down” theory so often doesn’t work out in practice. And the prominence of business interests at the outset raises fears of turning 7’s into the kind of kabuki (as opposed to sport) that is today’s American football.

        • RugbyAmerica
          December 1, 2012

          That is actually a pretty fair assessment. I’ve often feared that the favorable commercial appeal of 7’s will eventually lead it down another path away from Union. I pray that leaders keep the game grounded while at the same time allow room for growth and innovation. I doubt 7’s will turn into a sideshow, but the doesn’t mean someone won’t try to do it.

  2. Shaun Shepard
    December 3, 2012

    I think 4 American teams, with the players of those teams potentially even contracted semi/professionally. Gives the US a HUGE development opportunity that currently does not exist. This gives the US an excellent opportunity to get our players into high caliber meaning games and experience. Which the US struggles to do and is very much in need of.

    Not to mention the exposure and youth growth that will come as a result of it.

    In most cases I’m not a believer in the trickle down approach to anything. However, it actually work in sports. Again however, it only works if there is real money at the top. Right now in Rugby in the US there isn’t much money at the top. What little there is, comes from the bottom. This is basically a huge influx of money at the top for rugby in the US.

  3. Suwoopgang
    December 3, 2012

    Any info on where the other 3 teams might be?

    • RugbyAmerica
      December 3, 2012

      I haven’t heard anything concrete regarding the cities associated with the other teams. I will be surprised if LA isn’t one of them. They want to use the home team factor to get more local fans out to the stadium. At one point in time I seem to remember seeing the competitive territories that they were offering rights to. NY and LA were on the list and I think Chicago was in there as well. Dallas might have been another. I’ll dig around to see if I can find the email.

      On a interesting side note… I just saw a bit of insight into their plans moving forward. I’ll have an article on it later this week. Could have some hints towards future franchises.

      • RugbyAmerica
        December 3, 2012

        Found the document. NY, LA, Chicago, and Dallas were the original franchises being offered. It was from 2010 so things could have changed of course. There are things referenced in the document that I know for a fact have changed.

  4. MattD
    December 4, 2012

    As soon as I saw the Grand Prix Rugby website get updated, I was hoping to see something on it here. Glad to see you’re back at it Ted.

    Cant wait to hear more about these four US based teams. Any idea on if they will go after teams like Tiger Rugby and/or Serevi and maybe turn those teams into professional franchises?

  5. RugbyAmerica
    December 4, 2012

    Matt,

    Happy to finally have the time to be back in the mix. As for your question… from my conversations with them, the “franchises” that they refer to will be independently owned and operated. Given the current depth of our player pool, I think players and coaches from those two operations could very well end up involved. There are only so many elite players and coaches in America at this time. Hence my suspicions about some mercenaries being brought in to bolster the teams.

  6. nicolas s
    December 5, 2012

    i think we were all hopping when GPR was first annoucned , and i think they did say something to this in the first place, that they were going to creat pro-rugby 7s in the usa. with teams and a 7’s series stops around the country with each having teams from international and national teams competeing in it. but as far as i can tell its just one tournamnet in la, correct. what usa rugby needs is more chances to have ether contracted and players on the bubble play in more tournaments agianst other tough competitions like they have in euro and the pacific countries play in, i do hope this does work out and all and they come out with more information as time goes on but so far its just little bits here and there. so far we know 1 team, a loction and date and a net work .

  7. MattD
    December 7, 2012

    Check out their sponsorship deck on the website Nicolas. It somewhat lays out their plan step by step. Im not sure if they are telling us if those city names will be teams or game locations in this sponsorship deck though… Looks like the 1st four teams once they expand to a “League” (or locations) would be NY, LA, Chicago and Dallas… If its locations, Im guessing they would want a team in each of those cities anyway, so the local fans have someone to root for, but again its not clear. And it looks like they have goals to expand every year for the 1st 4 years… 4 more teams/locations in 2015… Atlanta, Philly, San Fran, Detroit… Then Cleveland, Seattle, Boston and Houston… Then DC, Minn, Phoenix, and Miami… And each year they have plans to expand the number of games played as well. after this initial year with the Million Dollar Prize, it goes to 5 games…. then 14, then 21 seems to be the number they want to hit… Im pretty excited by this little find. Hope it goes off at least half as good as what they are planning on.

    • RugbyAmerica
      December 8, 2012

      Matt,

      Good catch. I saw the Sponsor Deck a while back and was going to do a story, but wanted to give it some time. The way it looks right now, there may not be a true “league” (league as in how Americans come to expect them) until after the Olympics in 2016. In the meantime, they have a lot of events planned (which you outlined above) which would likely amount to a full time training and playing environment for all of the players involved.

      I believe the hope is there will be a team tied to each of their proposed event locations. As they build the number of stops on their series, they will add teams. By 2016, there will be enough teams created to launch and actual “league”.

      They are very ambitious plans, but if anyone has followed their progress for any amount of time you already know that they are shooting very high. As for now, Los Angeles is a “go”. I hope that they are successful and can go forward with their other plans. It will be good for growth of the sport in America. In the end, the fans $$$$ will decide whether this makes it beyond a few events.

      • Robert
        December 15, 2012

        7s is a tournament based sport not league based. In the furture I hope Grand Prix Rugby turns into a professional series not a professional league. With each team having their own tournament.

  8. Gregory Parkes-skelly
    December 8, 2012

    Got to say, I really hope that they don’t go down the whole “League” set up. Sevens isn’t a league type sport. It’s about the event or a series of events. If they went to say a 21 stop League, they’ll wear it out very quickly. They would be best served keeping it tight. Something like 8 legs would be perfect.

  9. MattD
    December 12, 2012

    I think a League could work. You can rotate locations and only put a certain amount of teams at each event, so teams are playing new competition every week. So lets say you end up with 16 teams. you can have 2 locations per week, 8 teams at each location. you fight it out for the top 4 seeds, and then after a few weeks you can advance the final 4 teams from your “conference” to the finals. Or if that wouldn’t work because it would involve to many weeks (each team getting a home game/tourny) you split it up between 4 teams and 4 locations per week. only problem would be filling in the time gaps in between games. Bring in the cheerleaders, and silly halftime sponsor games…

    Either way I think it could work. We did something similar with our local high school sevens league, and then took it to a statewide format this past year. Was very popular. We had 8 teams in Columbus last year, they had 10 in Cleveland. and we are looking to double that number in Columbus this year. We had tv coverage, newspaper coverage…. it was pretty exciting for the kids. they really seemed to love it. I think something like this at the professional level can really take off.

    http://columbusolympicrugby.com/

    • Gregory Parkes-skelly
      December 14, 2012

      Has any of those numbers and teams translate into the 15 man game? Would certainly be good if both versions benefited.

  10. RugbyAmerica
    December 12, 2012

    Matt,

    Agreed. Although I do understand where Gregory is coming from with his statement. Rugby 7’s does lend itself really well to the tournament/festival atmosphere. It is all that we know when it comes to 7’s events. I think there is some room where the league (note, we’re not talking about Rugby League) and event concept can become a hybrid of sorts. Fewer teams at each event, so that you’re not facing the same competition every week will be a must for it to work. I’d also like to see them keep overall Win/Loss records instead of using a points system.

    The nature of 7’s events leaves open plenty of room for creativity.

  11. Gregory Parkes-skelly
    December 14, 2012

    Certainly would need to be creative to ensure that it doesn’t get too repetitive. Fortunately, as you pointed out, it does leave a lot of room to tinker with.

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This entry was posted on November 30, 2012 by in Club Sevens, International Rugby, Olympics.
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