IIn May, World Rugby announced that the USA would host the men’s Rugby World Cup in 2031 and the women’s two years later. The news kicked off the clock in a ten-year project to establish rugby union as an American sport.
Four months later, on the eve of the Women’s World Cup in New Zealand, to say that all is not well in USA rugby is like saying that all is not dry in the ocean.
In the 15s, the men’s Eagles had yet to qualify for France 2023, while the women’s World Cup warm-up beat Scotland but then sent England 52 points. At home, Major League Rugby, the men’s professional league, faces uncertainty over the teams in LA and Austin, which were disqualified last season due to a board-level dispute. MLR champion Rugby New York has parted ways with coach Marty Veale.
The sevens delivered a disappointing result for US men, who finished last week’s World Cup in South Africa, 11th despite the women’s fourth place.
However, talk to Owen Scannell and the can-do spirit abounds. A player who worked for the New England Free Jacks at MLR at Dartmouth College, he is now chief of his own venture, the Premier Rugby Sevens.
PR7s is a professional competition where men and women compete in a series of tournaments for the same ultimate trophy. After a pilot event in Memphis in 2021, San Jose, Washington DC and Austin hosted events this summer. Scannell declares he’s “really happy” with how it all played out.
“From a face-to-face audience to a live audience, much of what we do is about growing the rugby audience. I think we’re starting to see that really happen.”
There are statistics that PR7s highlights: “716% increase in ticketing, 355% increase in sponsorship, more than 1.6 million minutes watched on Fubo Sports Network, average 18.54% on PR7s Instagram accounts (average brand engagement rate on Instagram 1%) ,9), average cross-platform social media growth of 95.6% (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, TikTok)”.
Scannell says the matchday crowd is “several thousand at each event.” At Audi Field in DC or PayPal Park in San Jose, the PR7s faced the same problem that MLR did at New Jersey’s Red Bull Arena for its June finale: how to get a small crowd on TV. look good.
The simple way MLR showed New York to win Seattle is to put everyone in front of the camera. But for a one-day event in San Jose, Scannell couldn’t make it.
“The far seats are all in the sun. So everybody cooks for the first six hours of the day and nobody wants to sit there. But because of the radio frequency with the airport, you can’t put the camera on the other side. So there’s no real way to get it to look good.
“But if you were at the stadium, the weather was beautiful. We had a DJ, music, inflatable toys, a big bar area at one end of the pitch and kids playing rugby balls on the little grassy area there. The festival atmosphere was fantastic.”
And compatible with sevens worldwide. The shortened game, the end-of-season jamboree on the Scottish borders 140 years ago, the morning-to-twilight tournaments emerged as the endurance part of the challenge.
Scannell says the PR7s can hold up as a rare rugby property specifically aimed at treating men and women alike.
“One of the coolest things we’ve seen this year is when so many men’s and women’s teams interact with each other, ‘Hey, you’re a headliner, I’m a headliner. We’re friends, we’re racing to win.”
There are four teams in each PR7 draw, which, due to the nature of the project, are generally referred to as location rather than a city-to-city traveling show. This summer, Headliners beat Loggerheads, Loonies and Experts. The champions were led by US Olympic athlete Abby Gustaitis and New Zealander Grace Kukutai on the women’s side. Devin Short and Brady Rush, son of the great Eric Rush and All Blacks Sevens player, led the Headliners’ men.
Scannel says: “When the female Headliners won at DC, all the male Headliners rushed onto the field to join them in celebration. It was a great moment for equality in sport.”
It also reveals how PR7 athletes are paid.
“PR7s have equal pay and reward tiers between male and female players based on previous professional experience and background, and equal overall compensation between male and female programs.
“Equality between our female and male athletes has been at the heart of our competition and our company, far beyond pay.”
IFew things are simple in the fragmented landscape of American rugby. US Olympians, including Perry Baker (twice world player of the year) and Alev Kelter, played PR7 in 2021 but focused on the world series and World Cups this year.
The question of how the PR7s will help the U.S. national teams is as elusive as the question of whether MLR exists to power the men’s Eagles XV. (Some in MLR don’t think of it as a private business.)
According to Scannell, “it is always challenging. When you look at the World Cup sevens, the World Cup 15s and the Olympic sevens, when do you play the biggest challenge? How can we fit it into the calendar?
“There are many discussions and things we can do to make sure we adapt to the global sevens circuit and truly contribute to the wider rugby and sevens ecosystem around the world. This will probably be one of the biggest working points for us.”
It also points to players who won the US cap after the PR7s,”Aaron Cummings and D’Montae Noble on the men’s side and Sarah Levy on the women,” he says. immortality Doom and gloom, given that “the women finished fourth in Cape Town in the medal rounds, which is where we want to be” at Eagles Sevens.
Another complicating factor in the PR7s’ life has yet to materialize: what if the MLR decides to try its hand? Presumably, the MLR sevens would give those with their own stadiums like the Houston SaberCats and Free Jacks a chance to win some cash.
Scannell says: “We have had a very positive working relationship with Major League Rugby, from players in both competitions to working collaboratively with Gilgronis and Old Glory to promote events in the Austin and DC markets.
We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with them to grow the profile of rugby in the United States and find more fans in a positive and constructive way.”