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After three-years in San Diego (2007,2008, 2009), the USA Sevens event had not met the expectations of the owing/operating company; then titled American International Lifestyles (AIL). AIL anticipated that the attractive city with its large and enthusiastic club and college rugby community would attract attendees in great numbers locally, from Southern California, and, importantly, become a February destination for rugby fans from around the country.
San Diego boasted a warming climate, world-class tourist attractions like Old Town's historic district, Sea World, San Diego Zoo, nearby Mexico only a short drive to the border, and quality golf and beaches. Petco Park, the modern Padres' baseball stadium would host the tournament in a spacious area, easy to get to and to park.
The ticket sales proved disappointing after three tournaments, and, more significantly, the weather (in six days total) showed three sunny days, two overcast, and one minor drizzle. On the Monday after the last Sunday's event, a downpour of Biblical proportions hit the southland for hours. Had this rain shower occurred one day earlier, the washout would have been catastrophic to fans and players.
The three-year AIL contract terminated with PetCo Park, and the move was on to search for another city. But where? San Francisco was welcoming but climate analyses indicated lower temperatures and more rain than San Diego. Phoenix, Tucson, Dallas and Houston offered warmer climes but none of these Sun Belt cities trumpeted "rugby fun destination."
A Call From Las Vegas
Ron Cornelius, a high-ranking marketing executive at the Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas, was also a long time rugger and president of the Las Vegas Black Jacks RFC founded in 1976. He knew that the USA Sevens were looking for another tournament city, and contacted AIL. Initially, there was skepticism to consider this gambling mecca as a possible venue for an IRB (World Rugby) sevens circuit stop. The city's climate history proved salubrious, warmer weather in February and no rain. AIL tournament executives visited Las Vegas and, spearheaded by Cornelius's local contacts, met with local officials to discuss the what ifs of bringing the event to the city.
The city offered Sam Boyd Stadium the 32,000 bowl football home of Las Vegas University on the outskirts of town. Abutting the stadium were 20 plus rugby-sized fields that could continue AIL's former San Diego college and club invitational tournament and also place hundreds of athletes and fans at the stadium complex for the two-day competition. There was also plenty of room for an expansive and involving Fan Festival.
Vegas Offers. AIL Considers
Las Vegas has strived to become more than just the gambling/entertainment capital of the United States. It actively courts conventions, corporate annual meetings, and welcomes sport events, the latter, to fill in weekends of down times in the slower tourist months. International sevens rugby, the first week of February, seemed an odd choice but the pre-Valentine day weekend was free and open for experiment.
The various Las Vegas tourist and hotel establishments proffered an attractive deal to AIL to move the event to that city in 2010 with monies and incentives.
(Next article, Viva Las Vegas - III: Convincing the IRB.)