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This wasn’t Gosper’s first trip to Las Vegas, as the former first-class rugby player and advertising executive has been to the city before, but this was his first visit to the biggest rugby event in the United States.
Gosper, who played for Melbourne Rugby Club and Racing Club de France, and then top executive at a series of major ad agencies, was impressed.
“It’s a wonderful event. I am really impressed with it,” Gosper told RUGBYMag.com. While acknowledging that tournaments such as Hong Kong are larger, Las Vegas is “not far off. Obviously Hong Kong is bigger and London is bigger from a capacity point of view, but this is like Dubai. It’s a terrific event.”
Other events on the HSBC Sevens World Series are not as big and some are struggling to achieve profitability. Amazing, as it might be to consider, but Las Vegas is among the bigger stops on the circuit.
“This is becoming one of the premier events around the world,” said Gosper.
It took a while for the USA 7s to get there, and now the United States has another World Series event, the women’s 7s in Houston. That finished up last week and drew just over 4,000 over the two days, rather than the more than 67,000 over three days.
“In many ways we try to reconcile our sponsors’ and our own growth objectives. We want to have a footprint that is great for us and great for them. We want to go to big cities where there’s population, where there’s good media, and where there’s good knock-on effects for the growth of the game and the tournament. I think things move pretty quickly these days. You can get no movement over five years and then the first year you get a major hit.
“There are always other cities knocking on our door and saying they’d like it - Rio, Paris, Singapore, Shanghai, Buenos Aires,” said Gosper. “Because they’re so big, I think they’d be very successful very quickly. So I am not sure we have to be patient. And Absolutely I think we have to make events earn their place.”
Each city that wants to host an HSBC event has to be a good fit, said Gosper. The players, sponsors and fans have to like it. He was very positive about Las Vegas.
And in fact, the United States as a whole.
Gosper recognizes that the United States is a two-fold opportunity; it remains a Tier II nation in need of development in rugby, but the USA as a media market is one rugby, and the IRB, needs to exploit better.
“We’re very keen to help in any way we can,” said Gosper. “We are not a bottomless pit in terms of money, but anything we can do we will try. We try to be clever about it. I think the next step is probably a pro league in this country, whether it be full professional or semipro remains to be seen. We’ve got conversations going on a number of fronts in that area. We believe that after university you need that high performing level to feed your national team so that you’re competing and doing well in the World Cup and generating in money .”
Ideas for pro domestic rugby in the USA include previously reported concepts such as a USA-based franchise in a European-based competition such as the Aviva Premiership, or a west-coast-based team in Super Rugby.
The distances to travel are large, but flying from New York to London isn’t much longer than flying from New York to Los Angeles.
And then there’s that marketing potential.
“If we get media interest in the US it will be good for the game,” explained Gosper. “Our main revenue comes out of the World Cup and the television rights the World Cup. For that the two biggest markets from a media point of view are by far France and the UK. If we add to that the US and Japan, that has a lot of potential for us. And it doesn’t take the same level of interest in the States to get the same amount of money.”
Gosper said the IRB wants to take rugby everywhere, not just to the big media markets. But the big media markets can help spread the game globally.
With that in mind, the IRB has inserted the USA and Canada into the Pacific Nations Cup.
“What these Tier II nations need is competition, competition, competition,”
said Gosper. “We want to get Tier IIs and Tier IIIs competitive. We need
money to fund these competitions, but you do want competitions to be
underwritten by commercial interests. You’re seeding it and hope it reaches
a level that captures the imagination of sponsors.”
These are very positive words from Gosper for the USA, because not only is he speaking about helping support the competitiveness of the national teams, he is talking about tapping into what the United States can offer as a sports-media market. The characterization of the USA 7s in Las Vegas as a premier event is telling, as is his message to other events that they need to raise the bar.