I think about it way too much, winning the lottery, but it sure is fun. I also think a fair amount about how professional rugby is most likely to succeed in the United States. The two lines of thought are not mutually exclusive.
I love the idea of professional 15s, as do probably most of you who will take the time to read this, but I don’t think it’s a commercially viable idea in the States just yet.
Brian Budzinski, the President of the Missouri Comets professional indoor soccer team, who came on one of our most listened-to podcasts to talk about niche pro sports, said about rugby something to the affect of: “I think there’s a market for it, but not 15s. I would pay $25 to come to a 7s tournament, but you couldn’t pay me $25 to sit through a 15s game.”
Unfortunately, I think his sentiments are shared by a large amount of the American public. Fortunately, that means I think 7s, if wrapped in the right package, is something America is ready to buy now.
So back to the title, if I won the lottery tomorrow, I would begin plans for a professional 7s circuit, and here’s how I’d start.
I’d pick about 8 cities in the United States I think would be really great places to host one of my events, based on a few factors.
We’d like each city to have a core team. If I’m in Seattle, OPSB has to commit to playing in six of my eight tournaments. Another criterion is that the city has a venue that could make money and accommodate media – like Silverback Stadium in Atlanta, Infinity Park in Glendale, Boxer Stadium in San Francisco, or Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City.
Other criteria are the city’s population and rugby awareness. The Bay Area would be a must for this hypothetical competition because it has both. Salt Lake City would be a serious contender, too. Denver would make a lot of sense. Let’s just say these cities, for argument’s sake: San Francisco, LA/San Diego (SoCal), Denver, Dallas/Houston (Texas), Denver, Las Vegas, Atlanta, NYC/Boston/Philadelphia (Northeast).
I would offer serious prize money at each tournament. Every team plays for free, and I’d assure each tourney pays the top two teams. Let’s say it’s a $10,000 purse: $5,000 for 1st, $2,500 for 2nd, $1,500 for third and $900 for fourth. Winning my championship is worth $25,000. Finishing second is worth $15,000 and third $5,000. That brings my grand total of payouts to $125,000.
To cover the nut of the payouts I would need to average just under $16,000 of profit at each tournament. If I charge an average of $20 a head and average, say, 2,000 fans, less than half of what the aforementioned indoor soccer team averages a home game, then my budget is $40,000 a tournament. For every extra 500 people I get at each event, or every $5 I raise my average ticket price, I expand my budget by $10,000.
Take out the prize money for each event, and I have $24,000 to work with. I think I could rent the likes of Infinity Park, Silverback Stadium or maybe a Texas high school football stadium, pay referees, stadium/event staff and properly market the event for that kind of money, plus maybe leave a little on top for me. I could quite possibly find hotels for the core teams and feed the participant teams, for that, too. I haven’t sold a nacho or a beer yet.
So, If I’m a club considering partaking in this circuit, perhaps as a core member, what am I looking at? Well, I have to pay to transport my teams to from city to city. That’s a serious amount of money. But, several teams spend serious money already. O-Club has been to Denver 7s, Glendale went to San Diego and Dallas this summer, a Pacific Barbarians team always goes to Cape Fear, etc. Plus, 16 teams every year go to San Fran for Nationals, most of which fly.
And there’s more prize money on offer than ever before.
Let’s draw some comparisons. Let’s say Belmont Shore, as national champs, mimics New Zealand’s 2010/2011 IRB 7s World Series success on my circuit – they win $49,800. Schuylkill River, mimicking South Africa in 2010/2011, would bank $32,500. Utah (England) would make $19,900.
Are teams getting rich? No. But they aren’t now, and they’re playing in inferior competitions that have no potential to earn money.
If we add an average of 500 fans paying an average of $5 more at each tournament, and put it all into the prize kitty, you could triple those figures. Imagine the average attendance at each tournament is something closer to 8,000 people after a couple of years (that’s still less than the CRC did in its first year) and it would create an extra $120,000 in revenue for each tournament, not to mention greatly increase the circuit’s ability to garner sponsors.
Does this concept sound like something that already kind of existed, but on steroids? Yes, the Club Championship Series run by USA Sevens. The CCS was a great concept. Why did it ultimately fail? Probably because teams would collect the prize money from a qualifier and not take the trip to Vegas for the final tourney, and maybe moreso because USA Sevens had other things on its mind that beckoned for more attention, like USA Sevens.
Would players get paid? Something tells me Sean Whalen in Utah, David Pope with The Woodlands Exiles and Bill Gardner, formerly NOVA’s financial backer, would see worth in a competition like this and spend enough to be competitive. Others would, too.
Plus, if successful, the circuit could expand in a million different ways. Maybe the Pat Clifton Pro 7s Circuit would contract a few guys, like Paul Emerick, Maka Unufe and Justin Boyd, and makes them the poster boys. Maybe the Utah event starts drawing upwards 10,000 fans each summer, and Whalen decides he wants to buy the tourney away from PCP7s (We’d probably have to hire a marketing person to come up with a better name), then that’s a revenue stream for his team, and he just pays a royalty to PCP7s each season.
Would it be on TV? I don’t believe TV coverage is the end-all be-all for sporting success, especially considering how far online video options have come, but, yeah, it very well could end up on the tube. I would think NBC Sports, set to enter your living rooms in 2012, would have interest.
I’m no genius, no innovator. But this makes sense to me, and I'm certain more thought, tweaking and number crunching by people far smarter than me could come up with something that made infinitely more sense. And the best part about it? It’s doable without winning the lottery.