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Once the decision had been made to explore a move of the USA Sevens to Las Vegas from San Diego, the IRB (World Rugby) had to approve the new venue. From the outset, there existed a problem with the narrow width at the football field in San Boyd Stadium and its closeness to the stands. Tournament Director, Dan Lyle, gave assurances that there was enough space for wide runs, and, if necessary, the stands could be padded. The IRB assented and the move became official.
In the past, both Los Angeles (Home Depot Stadium) and San Diego had been chosen as sites for the USA Sevens based on the historic size of the two cities’ rugby community. No such rich rugby legacy existed in Las Vegas. But this theory of the need for “local” rugger support would prove false, replaced by the more commercially successful concept of travel “destination.” Las Vegas offered a unique experience of entertainment, dining, and casino play unparalleled in the United States. In essence, fans came for the rugby, and stayed for the party.
The tournament grew exponentially each year, marked by the arrival of large, segmented crowds of Samoans coming from Utah, Fijians from Southern California, and Kenyans from all over. These fans found extensive food, clothing, and cultural offerings in the extensive Fan Festival outside the Stadium. Importantly, the California rugby community from north to south also traveled to Vegas for the fun event. And, the significant increase of more rugby-centered tourists from the USA and Canada.
The twenty rugby pitches near the stadium proved the perfect location for the Las Vegas Invitational, expanding each year to over 225 men’s and women’s, boys’ and girls’ sevens and fifteens, managed expertly by Competition Director Jon Hinkin and his staff.
Arrival of NBC Television
Then in October 2009, when the IOC voted rugby sevens into the 2016 Rio Olympics, NBC, the official broadcaster of the Summer Games, found American International Lifestyles (AIL), the operator of the USA Sevens. This partnership created the first College Rugby Championship (CRC) held in Columbus, Ohio, in 2010 to broadcast nationally the first domestic IRB sevens event. The ratings proved satisfactory, and NBC decided to air the 2011 USA Sevens, marking its second year in Las Vegas. The broadcast spotlighted the exciting tournament, setting Las Vegas center stage for the February weekend.
Ironing out a few problems
Overt time, World Rugby perceived the field’s width was inadequate for sevens play, giving a mandate: widen the pitch or move the tournament. This gave rise to the perniciously false rumors from last September that Las Vegas would be dropped from the circuit. United World Sports (the new name for AIL) petitioned for new construction to widen the field. UNLV agreed to this change. In addition, after complaints about the too dry grass at Sam Boyd, 2016 will feature the officially approved World Rugby turf 22. Everything in order.
World Rugby expanded the HSBC Sevens circuit to ten teams, pairing the Las Vegas Sevens with newly named Vancouver the first two weeks in March. The weather will be warmer a month after the previous February weekend. United World Sports extended its contract to continue the tournament in the city. A changing economic model also bodes well for the event as Las Vegas moves toward attracting more visitors for entertainment than for gambling.
March 4 to March 6 are the dates for next year's event, an occasion for fans to come cheer on the Eagles in their USA at home before the August Olympics.
Viva Las Vegas!