How club rugby can capitalise on the success and growth of sevens?
By Sam Ryan
After huge crowds turned out for the Sydney Sevens for a second straight year, I think it’s safe to say there’s a strong appetite for the event in both the rugby and non-rugby communities.
The colourful, party style atmosphere is exactly what rugby needs to attract new fans to the game and appease those losing touch with other parts of the sport.
But while it’s the closest thing we have to cricket’s Big Bash, it doesn’t answer all of rugby’s problems.
At the end of the day, the circus is only in town for a few days and the event is owned largely by World Rugby, not the ARU.
So how can Australian rugby further capitalise commercially on the growing interest in the shorter form of the game? And could club rugby take advantage?
The recently announced women’s universities tournament will be a fantastic development tool for the ARU and the sevens program, but as it’s played on university campuses, it doesn’t have a lot of commercial appeal. Maybe down the track it will, but at the moment it doesn’t sound like it will be the money spinner Australian rugby desperately needs.
I don’t think it’s completely ridiculous to suggest that both Sydney and Brisbane could attract 10,000-20,000 fans each to an annual Club Rugby Sevens tournament.
At the end of the day, a large portion of the fans at the Sydney Sevens are there for the event, not the rugby.
Don’t get me wrong, the footy is great but it’s the party atmosphere that gets fans, both new and old, excited and through the gate.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Cricket fans understand that Twenty20 and Test cricket are two completely different products, yet you’ll still find traditional fans wearing KFC buckets on their heads at the Big Bash. Plus it attracts an entirely new audience who would rather watch paint dry than sit through a session of Test cricket.
It works because it’s fun. And so does rugby sevens.
Last weekend, more than two thirds of the games played at the Sydney Sevens were contested by teams with very little to no supporter base. Yet even though the fans don’t know, or can’t pronounce, the name of the Russian flyer stepping past the American defender, they still cheer, dance and sing there way through the three-day event.
If you can get 40,000 people to watch Papua New Guinea play Kenya, surely you can get almost half of that crowd to watch Manly play Warringah, or Sunnybank face UQ.
Ballymore would be the perfect venue to host the Brisbane event. In Sydney, ground availability over summer would make things tough, but Rat Park and Warringah would put on a fantastic day, or maybe even Allianz if the interest was there.
Teams from Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and country regions could also enter the events, which could be held on a Saturday in November or December.
The top few teams could then play off in a National Club Rugby Sevens tournament as part of the Sydney Sevens weekend, potentially increasing the crowd on Friday.
While it may not be a TV product just yet, commercially it could be a winner for the clubs as they would own the competition.
By using their grounds, teams and potentially volunteers, profits from the gate and the bar could give Australian grassroots rugby the financial injection it so desperately needs.
Maybe I’m being selfish and just want another day or two at the sevens.
Or maybe it might just work.