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Vancouver event has helped rugby grow in Canada and needs to stay

Written By: Doug Crosse

My first experiences covering the Canadian rugby team went back to the mid 1990s when I was a freelancer for the Toronto Star. The 1996 Pan Am series involving the US, Argentina, Canada, and Uruguay was taking place in Ontario, with stops at Twin Elm Park in Ottawa, Fletcher’s Fields in Markham, and the Hornet’s Nest in Hamilton.

It was all pretty basic stuff, with crowds in the 1500 to 2500 range.  For the time it was pretty exciting, but when you hold it up to the spectacle of the Vancouver 7s event over the past couple of years, it really underscores the strides made in growing the sport of rugby from a marketing perspective.

Yes, I know fifteens and sevens are completely different, but I have seen the full version of the game move from no wifi and muddy pitches to the likes of BMO field and BC Place, with crowds of 20,000 to 30,000 in attendance.

It is acknowledged here that the senior men’s team is currently going through a rough patch, but the love of the team and the love of the 7s version of the game is very apparent.

March 10th and 11th in Vancouver will be yet another love letter from fans, who, when shown a great event in a comfortable and welcoming venue, show up to the tune of over 60,000 over two days, as was evidenced at last year’s 7s tournament.

What is playing out at these popular stops on the 7s world series stage is what has been often bandied about among rugby fans; Show a casual rugby fan the 7s form of rugby, it gets them a taste without indoctrinating them in the dark arts of the scrum, ‘advantage’, and whatever the hell just happened at that ruck.

Volleyball has enjoyed converting fans from beach, one of the most telegenic and popular events at the summer Olympics, to indoor full-on volleyball. A rising tide floats all boats, as more people have picked up a volleyball at all levels from elementary school through to post-secondary and on into adult league participation.

Likewise with Rugby 7s, the Canadian women taking bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics and the Canadian men winning their first ever Cup in Singapore in 2017 show that the minnows can swim with the sharks and win a bunch of new fans along the way.

In announcing its intention to bid for four more years of hosting the tournament, Canada Sevens revealed:

“The Canada Sevens tournament over the past two years has served as a huge catalyst for the growth of rugby in Canada, and we will be pulling out all the stops to gain the rights to host right through to 2023, so we can continue to raise the profile of rugby in Canada, increase participation, and drive revenue that supports all Rugby Canada programming, from grass roots right through to high performance.”

The economic impact is turning heads as well, as in two years, "the tournament drew more than 136,000 fans over the 4 days of competition, and directly booked more than 2,300 hotel room nights per year for teams, officials, staff, and volunteers. Last year alone, the spending of out of town spectators at the 2017 HSBC Canada Sevens, in combination with the expenditures made by the organizers in hosting the event, supported an estimated $24.5 million in economic activity for BC."

So hotels, restaurants, and associated industries enjoy the spoils of this two day event, while selfishly for the rugby fan it’s just full-stop a great two days well worthy of the support it has received since it’s inception. I am looking forward to attending my first Vancouver event after attending World Rugby events around the world, and this time I am going strictly as a fan.

And loving it!

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