The USA 7s International tournament is back for its 10th year and will be held over three days in Las Vegas, Nev. February 8-10 at Sam Boyd Stadium.
In the 2012 tournament, the event set American records for largest attendance of any single-day rugby event, with 30,112 coming to the stadium to see Saturday’s action, and total attendance for a multi-day event, with 64,107 for the entire weekend.
RUGBYMag.com sat down with Tournament Director Dan Lyle and Jonathan First, President of USA 7s, to discuss how the tournament and the fans’ experience has changed. (Full disclosure: USA 7s and RUGBYMag.com are owned by the same parent company.)
RUGBYMag: The Rugby Expo recently named the USA 7s the Event of the Year. What does that award mean for you?
Dan Lyle: Any validation from your peers is good! We know we have a great event – challenges in the US market have to be overcome one by one and this award does not mean they are defeated, so when you are given a pep talk in the middle of a battle it is always a good thing regardless.
RUGBYMag: USA 7s has a new list of hotels this year including the Monte Carlo, Luxor, Excalibur, and Aria. What are you looking for when you secure hotel deals for the fans and players?
Jonathan First: Our new partner for hotels, the MGM Resorts Group, has brought a commitment to build rugby 7s in Las Vegas. From the fan experience, the fans will feel the event in the hotel from the lobby to the bars to their rooms. From an event standpoint, the MGM group is positioning rugby 7s as the world class sport it is to its travel partners, guests and marketing partners. We have stepped up our event with such a strong and committed hospitality partner.
We also have a great partnership with Stations Casinos, the Presenting Partner of the LVI – this gives teams the chance to be near the fields, have direct access to the stadium via shuttles, receive a great discount on registration, but most importantly pick a price that they can afford as a team and get great added value such as inexpensive food, and other offers. All in all Stations is a guarantee for the easiest logistically and meeting and hanging with the rugby fraternity.
RUGBYMag: This will be the fourth year in Las Vegas. How do you feel about the venue, and the city?
Dan Lyle: The venue is intimate for the fans, which is great, and intimate from the teams perspective, which is great for many, but challenging for some. We are improving and adding benefit for the teams each year and the fans as well with different amenities and performance pieces. However a new venue in Vegas would solidify this event and add to our capacity for further events in Vegas. So we love Vegas and we balance it with a facility that is working, at times very well in certain aspects, but does not satisfy our overall needs completely.
RUGBYMag: What special services or features can fans look ahead to this year?
Dan Lyle: This will be the first year where we have three days, same times and similar menu, so we will improve the experience just by doing things better than last. The LVI fields are improving across the board. The team practice fields are improving, we are adding dozens of new teams and will feature some great event parties and venue productions (this is my teaser, more to come). What I can say is that we are improving on a good product which should get those that have not already put the event on their permanent calendar impetus to do so!
RUGBYMag: With the World Series now carrying 15 core teams, you only have one, instead of three, discretionary teams in the 2013 tournament. What team is that, and what criteria do you use to pick that team?
Dan Lyle: Good question. Canada is a great add for us as a core team, while Spain and Portugal are anomalies for us – will they play well? They did in Australia. More importantly, will they add a fan following the way Samoa, Fiji, or Kenya has? That would be a home run. We are investigating where the pockets of these nationalities and expats are in the States and welcome suggestions to inspire their fans.
On the 16th team we have Uruguay, which is a regional team, but there are arguments as to whether a Pacific or another North- or South-American team, such as Tonga, Japan, Brazil or Mexico, are better. All have merit and I can assure you we have good debate with the IRB on this. Ultimately it is their choice, not that of USA Sevens, in that they must balance regional winners and participation.
RUGBYMag: Over the last three years in Las Vegas, what have you learned about putting on an event of this scale?
Dan Lyle: Many, many things. Events are not turnkey. Each year, no matter if it is the 1st or 20th year, you have to go through many of the same operational pieces. It takes many hours to organize the venue, marketing, team operations, broadcasts, transportation, etc. You set up best practices and therefore while you have a similar time commitment, you hope that the end product for the team, fan and viewer is that much better.
RUGBYMag: 2011 marked the first year the tournament featured competition across three days. Was this format successful and do you anticipate the tournament will continue over three days?
Dan Lyle: Las Vegas is a destination city, so hosting the tournament across three days not only aligns well with our TV coverage, but also with our fan's travel schedules. Last year, over 11,000 fans attended our first-ever Friday night round of competition, and we considered that very successful. This year, we're seeing an even greater trend in fans purchasing 3-day tickets, not only because of the great value, but for the opportunity to view another day of world-class rugby competition. We expect records crowds for this year's Friday night competition, and are anticipating a packed house on Saturday and Sunday.
RUGBYMag: Talk about the LVI for a bit. This is not unique – other IRB World Series stops have satellite tournaments – but this event has become the largest in the USA. What is special about the LVI?
Dan Lyle: Well not unique in that Dubai has an event, Hong Kong has the tens and a few other pieces, but unique in the size and diversity plus-plus. We have 250-300 teams coming in and all want great competition, great value and to have a great time. Our value proposition for the fan is still highly tied to playing the game as is watching the game. This is a business, but this is a requirement for the business to work. Each team plays its part in helping grow the event, be ambassadors for the sport and showing the world that American rugby in terms of culture and ability are on the rise. We are proud of our effort here!
RUGBYMag: UNLV is going ahead with plans for a 60,000-seat, $800 million stadium. Construction is still years away, with legislative approval on financing still to come. But how would this facility – bigger, domed, requiring (as Sam Boyd does) importing of grass, possible increased rental costs - change the USA 7s?
Jonathan First: There is no doubt that a new stadium with the modern conveniences players and fans have come to expect would greatly benefit our event and every other event Las Vegas brings into the stadium venue. This of course is an economic issue for the city of Las Vegas and we will have to wait and see if and when this may become a reality. In the meantime, the folks who run Sam Boyd Stadium have been terrific to work with and have been a major part of making our event the success it is.
RUGBYMag: How does the City of Las Vegas and the greater LV area feel about the economic impact of the USA 7s? What kind of numbers can you give me on what the tournament and the LVI bring to the region?
Dan Lyle: Well they renewed us for another couple of years, so I think we are doing something right – seriously our value in economic terms has gone from $12 million, to $14 million to $20 million with an incremental rise in hotel rooms to over 22,000 annually. The rugby demo is great for the city and is a valuable commodity for our sport – the greater our value proposition comes and the more and more people that decide that rugby is great sport to play AND watch the better our events in the US will become. We love our fans and Vegas loves them to – we are growing in partnership with both.
Jonathan First: We bring in $20 million-plus dollars to the city of Las Vegas during our tournament. Las Vegas Events, which is the entity responsible for bringing in new events to the city, is more than happy with our event. We continue to grow each year and have put Las Vegas on the map with regard to hosting a world class Olympic sport event in their great city.