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Growing the audience for rugby: PR7s seeks to seed game in the us

In May, World Rugby announced that the united states will host the mens Rugby World Cup in 2031 and the ladies 2 yrs later. The news headlines started the clock on a decade-long project to determine rugby union as an American sport.

Four months on, on the eve of a womens World Cup in New Zealand, to state all isn’t well in US rugby will be like saying all isn’t dry in the ocean.

In 15s, the mens Eagles haven’t yet qualified for France 2023 as the women beat Scotland in a global Cup warm-up but shipped 52 points to England. In the home, Major League Rugby, the mens pro league, faces uncertainty over teams in LA and Austin, both disqualified amid board-level dispute last season. The MLR champions, Rugby NY, parted company with coach Marty Veale.

In sevens, the planet Cup in South Africa the other day returned a disappointing result for the united states men, who finished 11th, although women came in fourth.

Speak to Owen Scannell, however, and can-do spirit abounds. A new player at Dartmouth College who worked for the brand new England Free Jacks in MLR, he could be now chief of their own start-up, Premier Rugby Sevens.

PR7s is really a professional competition where women and men compete over some tournaments for exactly the same ultimate trophy. Following a pilot event in Memphis in 2021 San Jose, Washington DC and Austin hosted events come early july. Scannell declares himself really pleased with how everything played out.

From an in-person audience from what we had from the streaming audience, plenty of what weve been doing is approximately growing the audience for rugby. I believe were beginning to really note that happen.

PR7s has statistics to tout: 716% upsurge in ticketing, 355% upsurge in sponsorship, over 1.6 million minutes watched on Fubo Sports Network, 18.54% average engagement across PR7s Instagram accounts (the average brand engagement rate on Instagram is 1.9%), 95.6% average cross-platform social media marketing growth (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, TikTok).

Game-day crowds, Scannell says, were in the handful of thousands at each event. At Audi Field in DC or PayPal Park in San Jose, PR7s faced exactly the same problem MLR did at the Red Bull Arena in NJ because of its final in June: steps to make a little crowd look good on TV.

How, as MLR showed for New Yorks make an impression on Seattle, would be to put everyone opposite the camera. However in San Jose, for a day-long event, Scannell couldnt do this.

The far sideline seats are in sunlight. So everybody bakes for the initial six hours of your day and nobody really wants to sit there. Nevertheless, you cant put the camera on the other hand due to the radio frequency with the airport. So theres no real solution to shoot it to create it look good.

But in the event that you were in the stadium, the vibe was so excellent. We’d the DJ, we’d music, inflatables, a large bar area at one end of the field and kids using rugby balls in just a little grass patch there. The festival atmosphere was phenomenal.

And commensurate with sevens worldwide. The shortened game started in the Scottish borders 140 years back being an end-of-season jamboree, tournaments from morning to dusk, endurance area of the challenge.

Scannell says PR7s can endure, particularly as a rare rugby property that seeks to take care of women and men exactly the same.

Among the coolest things we saw this season was most of the mens and womens teams engaging with one another, saying, Hey, youre a Headliner, Im a Headliner. Were friends, were competing to win.

You can find four teams in each PR7s draw, named generically instead of for location given the type of the project, a traveling show from town to town. Come early july, the Headliners outran the Loggerheads, Loonies and Experts. The champions were led on the womens side by Abby Gustaitis, a US Olympian, and the brand new Zealander Grace Kukutai. Devin Short and Brady Rush, son of the fantastic Eric Rush and an All Blacks Sevens player, led the Headliners men.

The women’s Loggerheads and Loonies scrummage in San Jose.
The womens Loggerheads and Loonies scrummage in San Jose. Photograph: Premier Rugby Sevens

Scannel says: Once the womens Headliners won in DC, all of the mens Headliners ran onto the field to become listed on them in celebration. It had been this type of cool moment for equity in sports.

He also lays out how PR7s athletes are paid.

PR7s has equal tiers of pay and prize money allocated between male and female players predicated on previous professional experience and history, and the same aggregate quantity of compensation between your mens and womens programs.

Equity between our female and male athletes has been at the core of our competition and company far beyond pay.

In the fractured landscape of American rugby, little is ever straightforward. US Olympians including Perry Baker (twice world player of the entire year) and Alev Kelter played PR7s in 2021 but this season focused on the planet series and World Cups.

The question of how PR7s should help US national teams is really as tricky because the question of whether MLR exists to fortify the mens Eagles XV. (Some in MLR think, as an exclusive business, it generally does not.)

To Scannell, its always challenging. Once you consider the World Cup sevens, World Cup 15s and Olympic sevens, the largest challenge is when can you play? How do we match the calendar?

There are a great number of discussions and things we are able to do to be sure we have been aligning with the global sevens circuit and so are really additive to the broader ecosystem of rugby and sevens worldwide. That could probably be one of the primary working points for all of us.

He also points to players who’ve earned US caps after PR7s, Aaron Cummings and DMontae Noble on the mens side and Sarah Levy on the womens, and says all is not doom and gloom in Eagles sevens, given the ladies finished fourth in Cape Town, in the medal rounds, that is where you want to be.

Another complicating element in the life span of PR7s have not yet arrived at pass: what goes on if MLR decides to use its hand. Notionally, MLR sevens would supply the likes of the Houston SaberCats and the Free Jacks, making use of their own stadiums, an opportunity to make some cash.

Scannell says: Weve had an extremely positive working relationship with Major League Rugby, from players featuring in both competitions to working collaboratively to market events in the Austin and DC markets with the Gilgronis and Old Glory.

Hopefully to continue dealing with them collaboratively to cultivate the profile of rugby in the usa, to get more fans in a confident and constructive manner.

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