In May, World Rugby announced that the US will host the men’s Rugby World Cup in 2src31 and the women two years later. The news started the clock on a decade-long project to establish rugby union as an American sport.
Four months on, on the eve of a women’s World Cup in New Zealand, to say all is not well in US rugby would be like saying all is not dry in the ocean.
In 15s, the men’s Eagles have not yet qualified for France 2src23 while the women beat Scotland in a World Cup warm-up but then shipped 52 points to England. At home, Major League Rugby, the men’s pro league, faces uncertainty over teams in LA and Austin, both disqualified amid board-level dispute last season. The MLR champions, Rugby New York, parted company with coach Marty Veale.
In sevens, the World Cup in South Africa last week returned a disappointing result for the US men, who finished 11th, though the women came in fourth.
Talk to Owen Scannell, however, and can-do spirit abounds. A player at Dartmouth College who worked for the New England Free Jacks in MLR, he is now chief of his own start-up, Premier Rugby Sevens.
PR7s is a professional competition in which men and women compete over a series of tournaments for the same ultimate trophy. After a pilot event in Memphis in 2src21 San Jose, Washington DC and Austin hosted events this summer. Scannell declares himself “really happy” with how it all played out.
“From an in-person audience to what we had from a streaming audience, a lot of what we’ve been doing is about growing the audience for rugby. I think we’re starting to really see that happen.”
PR7s has statistics to tout: “716% increase in ticketing, 355% increase in sponsorship, over 1.6 million minutes watched on Fubo Sports Network, 18.54% average engagement across PR7s Instagram accounts (an average brand engagement rate on Instagram is 1.9%), 95.6% average cross-platform social media growth (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, TikTok)”.
Game-day crowds, Scannell says, were “in the couple of thousands at each event”. At Audi Field in DC or PayPal Park in San Jose, PR7s faced the same problem MLR did at the Red Bull Arena in New Jersey for its final in June: how to make a small crowd look good on TV.
The simple way, as MLR showed for New York’s win over Seattle, is to put everyone opposite the camera. But in San Jose, for a day-long event, Scannell couldn’t do that.
“The far sideline seats are all in the sun. So everybody bakes for the first six hours of the day and nobody wants to sit there. But you can’t put the camera on the other side because of the radio frequency with the airport. So there’s no real way to shoot it to make it look good.
“But if you were in the stadium, the vibe was so great. We had the DJ, we had music, inflatables, a big bar area at one end of the field and kids playing with rugby balls in a little grass patch there. The festival atmosphere was phenomenal.”
And in keeping with sevens worldwide. The shortened game originated in the Scottish borders 14src years ago as an end-of-season jamboree, tournaments from morning to dusk, endurance part of the challenge.
Scannell says PR7s can endure, particularly as a rare rugby property that seeks to treat men and women the same.
“One of the coolest things we saw this year was a lot of the men’s and women’s teams engaging with each other, saying, ‘Hey, you’re a Headliner, I’m a Headliner. We’re friends, we’re competing to win.”
There are four teams in each PR7s draw, named generically rather than for location given the nature of the project, a traveling show from town to town. This summer, the
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