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USA Sevens is set for another record year in 2016, with increased sponsorship revenue and all signs pointing toward a big jump in attendance. Tickets are still being sold, so the final numbers won’t be tallied until Sunday, but the pre-sale trend is up significantly from 2015, which saw 75,761 pass through the Sam Boyd Stadium turnstiles over three days.
The internal expectation from USA Sevens organizers, days from the event, is to break the 80,000 threshold for the first time, and for Saturday, the tournament’s peak day in terms of butts in seats, to look an awful lot like a sellout. Sam Boyd holds 40,000, and last year 34,593 took in the action on day two.
Additionally, the Las Vegas Invitational is boasting its largest field ever, with 275 teams from nearly all 50 states and more than 13 countries converging on Sin City. The America’s Cup (formerly Men’s Elite) and Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship Qualifier divisions are again headliners, while the Women’s Elite competition is resurgent.
The top women’s sides from Japan, France, Brazil, South Africa, Great Britain, Mexico, Canada, and the United States are all in the competition. With the semifinals and final set to be played inside the stadium Sunday, the LVI will be among the best attended women’s 7s tournaments on the planet this year, eclipsing even some of the Women’s Sevens World Series stops.
This success comes just months after a premature obituary for the tournament was erroneously written, as numerous publications, both in the American rugby community and abroad, incorrectly reported that the Las Vegas stop would be no more starting with the 2015/2016 World Series. As World Rugby took its time finalizing the circuit’s new look, rumor and speculation suggested things like the formerly narrow field at Sam Boyd Stadium and the inclusion of a Canadian tournament would spell the end of USA Sevens.
In reality, tournament organizers were negotiating an extension with World Rugby through 2019, orchestrating major construction at Sam Boyd Stadium that would see the field widened to meet the international governing body’s requirements, and the groundwork was being laid for the biggest and best USA Sevens to date, further cementing the event’s unofficial title as the Super Bowl of American rugby.
World Rugby did shake up the series, with Singapore, Vancouver and Paris supplanting Glasgow and Tokyo and complementing the seven already-entrenched stops. The Canadian tournament was paired with that in Las Vegas, setting them a week apart and prompting speculation that one would have an adverse impact on the other. That’s proven emphatically untrue.
The American tournament will break records this weekend, and next weekend’s Vancouver tournament is sold out. Only 28,000 of BC Place Stadium’s 55,000 were up for grabs for the two-day event, but they’ve all been claimed. These developments, and the continued participation from numerous Canadian teams in the LVI, have proven the North American market a sustainable one for 7s rugby and that Las Vegas and Vancouver events can happily coexist.
Some outside factors will help make the 2016 USA Sevens special, too, like the inclusion of the game’s most well-known stars – Bryan Habana, Quade Cooper, Sonny Bill Williams and Liam Messam, all of whom are confirmed to participate this week. Las Vegas marks Habana’s return to the World Series after a decade-long hiatus, Messam’s first appearance in six years, and Cooper’s 7s debut. These are truly world rugby’s brightest stars aligning as 7s players, for the first time anywhere, on American soil.
2016 also marks the first year Team USA isn’t just a contender to make the Cup Quarterfinals, but expected to do so. The Eagles are following up a record-breaking season with another, having reached the top eight every tournament so far.
The spectacle will again be broadcast to a national television audience via NBC and NBC Sports Network. Friday’s action will be carried from 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET, and Saturday’s from 7:30-10:00, on NBC Sports Network. Sunday, the tournament will air from 1:00-2:00 p.m. ET on NBC and 6:00-7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network.