There have been a number of articles about how Sevens rugby making it into the Olympics could provide a big boost to rugby worldwide, in a number of ways – exposure, recruitment, funding, etc.
Part of these discussions have been how Sevens is different to Fifteens, whether players can easily transfer at the same level, and so forth. However, my thinking turned to what Sevens could be used to do domestically in Australia, given the recent doldrums the game is in here. This is one of two ideas have been mulling over, with the other one for a different article.
Recently, I have been getting emails from the ARU advertising the Adelaide Sevens in March 2010, as part of the IRB World Sevens series. Although I had always been aware it was held there, I suddenly thought (with no disrespect to Adelaide) “Why the hell are we holding this in Adelaide?”
Sevens is in many ways the rugby equivalent of Twenty 20 cricket – fast, energetic, and easy to watch (and not seen as worthwhile as the full game by some). However, it does provide entertaining rugby, even if you cannot remember much of the games later (whether because they weren’t memorable, or because of the tendency to imbibe at Sevens weekend tournaments), and in many ways is a great way to “sell” the game. Further, such a tournament showcases the international scope and talent of the game of rugby.
So why is it in Adelaide? The main reason that I see it, apart from whatever sweeteners the South Australia government throws the ARU and IRB’s way, is that it provides some exposure for rugby in South Australia. Adelaide has no Super rugby team (and with Melbourne in 2011 will be the only mainland state not to have one), and its club competition is relatively small. As such, it is “something” to give to SA, because they are only likely to get international rugby when there is a World Cup on. Domestic Tests will be few and far between, and no Super team is likely to send a precious home game on the road (and even pre-season games will be used to go out to the neglected regions of each state).
By all accounts the Adelaide Sevens gets decent crowds, and the locals and tourists love it. But, all I can think of is how much bigger it could be, and more exposure it could provide, in Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne. Adelaide’s gain (such as it is, and it’s hardly likely to be something to build a base from to compete with AFL in South Australia) may well be Australian rugby’s greater loss.
I remember attending the then NSWRL’s rugby league sevens at the SFS in the early 1990s. The clubs played against each other and international sides over 2 or 3 days. That competition is long gone, but it did provide a couple of days of enjoyable league games. Of course, league has a healthy club competition in Sydney, so it wasn’t like they needed more exposure in Sydney.
So why isn’t the ARU looking at moving the IRB Sevens to Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne? The crowds have the potential to be bigger, much bigger, given these are (in the case of Sydney and Brisbane) the heartland of rugby, and (in Melbourne’s case) packed full of sports nuts. Surely that extra revenue would be welcome. Further, the cosmopolitan nature of Sydney and Melbourne mean there are ready made supporter groups (both locals and backpackers) for some of the smaller nations that in Sevens are more competitive.
The attraction of seeing some of the best and most entertaining rugby players around (given that Sevens does tend to have more razzle dazzle than the standard form, especially in its current rules version) is sure to attract both rugby fans as well as general sports fans (and the odd league scout!), and the international aspect will also attract sports fan. With no disrepsect to league internationally, rugby is a truly international game and the IRB World Sevens show cases that fully.
Again, with no disrespect to Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne are both easier to get to by plane, and provide more well known tourist attractions internationally, thus providing an extra excuse for any rugby fan thinking of coming to watch it, or any tourist visiting at that time.
The timing within the Super rugby season might have to be considered, given March is during Super rugby season. However, this would be more to not compete with other rugby, than due to player duties given the Australia Sevens squad is essentially different to the Super rugby squads.
So why are we letting the Sevens tournament essentially prop up an otherwise neglected rugby backwater, when it could be used to showcase the sport in the main battlegrounds of what is one of the most competitive sports markets in the world? I’ll be front and centre if they ever bring it to Sydney, and a weekend trip to Brisbane or Melbourne is unfortunately a lot more attractive than Adelaide (given the air fares on what are more heavily used domestic routes).