On Hosting the 7s Rugby World Cup

Recently, USA Rugby announced their intent to bid for the 2018 Rugby 7s World Cup. The news sparked a bit of excitement in the rugby community. With the recent success of the Vegas 7s and CRC, combined with the advent of the Olympic Rugby Quadrennial makes the idea of hosting a 7s RWC in the good ol’ U.S.-of-A a pretty intriguing idea when it comes to growing the game.

When the news broke that USAR was going to bid, the media folks in Boulder posed the question: “If the USA won the bid, what venue or city would be the best host?” to their fans on Twitter and Facebook. As a self-described “stadium enthusiast” (JG knows), I immediately started filtering a list of possible host cities/venues in my head. Having worked at USA Rugby for several years, I’ve attended many events over the years at Stanford’s Steuber stadium, and immediately I sent out a tweet “Gotta be Stanford!”, knowing the nearby football stadium had hosted soccer events in the past.

Intrigued, I outlined the criteria in my head for a facility to host such an event, and started filtering through various stadiums around the country to see what other venues could be potential hosts. As the tweets started to roll on, the idea of Stanford seemed to get some traction. Other folks threw some ideas out there, and as my research concluded, I replied “I did the research, and really, Stanford is the only place to that makes sense!”. It was a bit of an exaggerated statement… I understand. So I got called out on it! “If you could be so kind as to list all the places you found that can host?” someone tweeted. Hmm. A worthy challenge!

So here we are. Here is the list of places that I found that could conceivably host the tournament. Please (please!) note this list is far from complete, and you’ll probably disagree with something written here. Great! Let’s hear it! Let’s use this piece as a conversation starter to see what we can find!

Now it’s important to first clarify for everyone just what exactly ARE the requirements to host a great event like the 7s RWC? Lots of people were quick to throw out names of NFL stadiums. Seems logical, but there are some things to consider first.

1)   Hometown Advantage. First, the tournament must be held in one of America’s rugby “markets”. While I’m sure the fine folks of the rugby community in, say, Wisconsin are just as passionate as those in say, New York… Green Bay just isn’t going to host. Sorry.

2)   You need two stadiums to host the event. I suppose it’s a little known fact about RWC 7s, but you need two fields in order to pull off both the Men’s and Women’s tournament. That’s huge. They stadiums don’t have to be the same size, but there needs to be two in the same host city. Remember, it’s only a three-day event, as opposed to the Soccer World Cup in ’94, which utilized multiple cities.

3)   Proximity. Those two stadiums need to be within walking distance of each other. Again, this is huge, and it severely limits your options. If you’ve ever been to an IRB 7s event, or even seen one on TV, you know the party-like atmosphere is one of the major attractions to the game, and one of the reasons why it is now an Olympic event. It’s got to be a party. In order do that, you gotta be able to walk back and forth between the Men’s and Women’s events freely. So, even in a city like Houston, it’s just too far between reliant stadium and BBVA Compass stadium to make the atmosphere vibrant, and draw crowds to all matches.

4)   Stadium size. This is a big one too. It’s long been an argument in American rugby… “Why don’t you just put the Eagles in the Rose Bowl?” While there are many amazing facilities in the USA, the fact is, pretty much every NFL stadium is just too big for a rugby event in this country. Even for RWC 7s, and 80-90,000 seat stadium just won’t sell out, and the last thing you want on international TV is empty seats (ie: Russia). The ideal size for the RWC 7s in the USA is 30-50,000, with a 5-10,000 seat ancillary stadium. Considering the smaller size required, and need for two fields, there are actually very few (if any) viable stadiums that are not on college campuses across the country. Think about it. Pro stadiums are designed to bring you in, entertain you, and get you on your way. College facilities are designed to create athletic “pods”.

  1. Additionally, you must take into consideration the width of the stadium. Many football stadiums are long enough, but the width is where you run into problems. Look at Vegas. They squeeze every inch out of that pitch they can, and it’s still narrow. Teams don’t usually like a thin pitch in 7s, especially for a World Cup.

5)   The city itself. The city and infrastructure of said city is an important consideration too. Let’s face it, we’re only going to get so many domestic sports fans to attend the event. Rugby is exploding in popularity, true. But not enough to draw 50k Americans to three days of rugby. Example #1: Vegas. USA 7s has done a great job of drawing international fans to Vegas, for obvious reasons. The RWC 7s needs to be in a place Europeans or Antipodeans WANT to visit. To me, this eliminates places like Kansas City, or Charlotte. They just don’t have the panache of New York, L.A., or even Chicago, and aren’t nearly as tourist friendly. This also means infrastructure. A place like San Francisco is perfect. One major international airport connecting most major cities in the world including the likes of Dubai, London, Sydney, Auckland, Paris, Tokyo, etc. But it’s also a great option for us Yanks. Not only do you have SFO, you have San Jose and Oakland airports that provide affordable flights from just about anywhere in the country. CalTrain and BART are also an attractive option for Bay Area visitors, as is Amtrack, NJ Transit, Washington Metro, and the NYC Subway in the Northeast (to name a few).

6)   Time of year. The tournament will be held in June. Honestly… who wants to sit outside all day and watch rugby in Phoenix, or Miami… in June. Brutal. English people will toast their fair skin, and people will pass out from heat exhaustion. So you gotta look north, or in the Bay Area, where it remains cool in the summer.

 

Those are the big requirements. I also think the need for a grass field is important, but as we saw in Moscow, and see every year in Vegas, an artificial turf field can be sodded over with a grass pitch in order to accommodate an appropriate surface. I do believe the width of the surface is key though. The winning stadium has to be able to host international Soccer matches as well to get the full width.

Perhaps a stadium with an artificial surface would be more preferential? Many groundskeepers are hastily preparing their grass for football in the June timeframe, and generally keep traffic off their field. A facility with artificial turf wouldn’t be so concerned with sod being laid down.

So let’s go down the list! In no particular order, but I’ll put my favorite choice first.

1)   Stanford Stadium & Steuber Rugby Stadium. After considering all the above, I truly believe Stanford is it. The field is big enough (check the measuring tool on google maps) and has a grass field too. Stanford has a history of hosting World Cup events, having hosted Soccer World Cup matches in the past. Ever been to a football game at Stanford? The tailgating scene is fantastic! There is plenty of room for RV’s, vendors, corporate hospitality, etc, and Steuber is no more than a two-minute walk away from the main stadium. The Stanford Soccer stadium could act as the perfect warm-up field for teams before they enter the stadium too. You can catch CalTrain a short walk from the stadium, and Palo Alto provides plenty of atmosphere for visitors, not to mention San Francisco and wine country. Plus, it’s Stanford. One of the world’s most recognized academic institutions. People in other countries know what Stanford is, and what it represents academically and athletically.

2)   Byrd Stadium at the University of Maryland & Ludwig Field. Capacity is in the mid-50’s, and the soccer stadium in the 5-10k range. Perfect. Maryland is smack-dab in the middle of a major rugby & metropolitan market. The stadium has hosted soccer in the past, but is artificial, so would need sod. Ludwig field is about a 5-minute walk away. Good weather that time of year. Major airports in Dulles, Washington National, Baltimore/Washington and even Philly. Major tourist attractions in DC, Philly, even NYC. The University is accustomed to putting on large events for football (I’m not implying they would be willing to host rugby though).

3)   High Point Solutions Stadium @ Rutgers University & Yurack Field. Again, capacity is in the mid-50k range, and Yurack is around 10k. Rutgers is the logical stadium for the NYC metro area. Red Bull Arena and The Meadowlands only have one pitch. Both fields are walking distance, grass, and accessible by public transit (I think). Again, good weather, and NYC is always a draw with the overseas crowd.

4)   Harvard Stadium & Ohiri Field. At roughly 30k capacity, Harvard Stadium is on the smaller side, but the field is big enough and Ohiri field is similarly sized as the previous schools, and a short walk away. Also, like Stanford…. It’s freakin’ Harvard we’re talking about here. People know Harvard. People respect Harvard. It’s very attractive because of the name to people worldwide. Boston and New England are both rugby-friendly, and in my opinion, it’s been a market that is long overdue for an international rugby event.

5)   The Stub Hub Center (formally the Home Depot Center) in L.A. As we saw earlier this summer with the Eagles, the venue can host rugby events. The Women Eagles played on the ancillary field outside the main stadium, and it was a good size fit for that match. I think the main stadium would be a bit small for the main event at around 25k, but unfortunately there are no other venues in So-Cal (that I know of) with fields close together, and are big enough for rugby. No outside field at the Rose Bowl, LA Coliseum, or any other smaller colleges around the area. Maybe I’m wrong? I think we all know the kind of tourist draw LA is capable of pulling in too. “Bring the family over from London for some 7s and Disneyland! Then throw in a trip to Vegas for Mum and Dad!”

6)   Rice-Eccles Stadium & Ute Soccer Field. Salt Lake City is very capable of pulling off an event like this. A vibrant local rugby scene, with many international connections. R.E. Stadium is in the 50k range, and the soccer stadium would suffice. They aren’t exactly right next to one another, but a close walk. SLC also has a nice light rail system that would be ideal public transport. If SLC can draw an overseas crowd for the Olympics, they certainly can for rugby too. I’d imagine it would appeal to the outdoor enthusiast who wanted to explore some of Utah’s beautiful national parks while there too.

7)   BYU. Similar to the U of U, BYU could be an option. The stadium is big enough (around 50k) and Cougar Rugby already hosts great rugby events at South Field, only a short walk away. Provo isn’t exactly an international destination, but it’s close enough to SLC to make it viable.

That’s about it! I think the important thing for people to realize is that there are a ton of factors to consider when thinking about this. But isn’t it fun?!

I earnestly hope we win the bid to host RWC 7s in 2018. I think it would do wonders for the sport in our country, and the location is a key part of that growth.

If I was a betting man… I’d go Stanford.

 

1)   Stanford Stadium & Steuber Stadium

2)   U of Maryland: Byrd Stadium & Ludwig Field

3)   High Point Solutions Stadium @ Rutgers & Yurack Field

4)   Harvard Stadium & Ohiri Field

5)   Home Depot Center (Stub Hub Center) & Track Stadium

6)   Rice-Eccles Stadium & Ute Soccer Field

7)   BYU Stadium & South Field

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3 Comments

  1. Posted July 20, 2013 at 3:38 am | Permalink

    Eric,

    You neglected to mention Reliant Park in Houston. Two fully-functional, multi-use covered stadiums side-by-side, both designed for soccer & rugby width/length (The Astrodome even hosted a 7s tournament back in the 80s!). These may be a bit larger than you desired, but Reliant Stadium is tiered and tickets can be sold by tiers, if required. Five full-sized practice pitches (one covered). Houston Metro services Reliant Park with multiple Park-n-Ride options and a light rail running from RP to Downtown. TWO International Airports (Bush & Hobby). Definitely a city that foreigners like to visit.

    These are just the basics that the Houston Sports Authority (oh, forgot to mention that Houston possesses an organization that focuses on hosting events like this) will present in their bid.

    Cheers!
    G

  2. Eric Taber
    Posted July 22, 2013 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for calling me out on my oversight Grant! To be honest, I didn’t know Reliant had other facilities in the same area.

    You’ve got one thing spot on, and that is that the Houston Sports Authority, Rugby Texas, and the promoters behind the two test matches so far in Houston have all done a bang-up job. Their efforts should be an example to the rest of the rugby community if they want to bring international rugby to their town.

    I did a little looking into the venues you propose. The idea of having the entire event held in an air-conditioned, indoor venues is especially interesting. I think that fact alone makes Houston a viable option, especially considering the event will be in June! Agree the infrastructure is there. Airports are great, IAH is getting service from all over the planet.

    The biggest drawback I see, and as you mention, is the size. I’d be hesitant to host the event in such a cavernous stadium.. especially the ancillary field. Especially after watching the Russia event, I’d imagine the IRB will be leery to hold the event in a bigger stadium. With bigger stadium comes bigger risk factor in cost. Will it sell enough tickets over 3 days to be a money making venture? Hard to say, even with all the great support of the Houston/Texas rugby communities.

    I’d love to see the bid Houston puts forth… sounds like a contender!

    • Posted July 24, 2013 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      Eric,

      Agree that the size gives a disadvantage, but I think that the sheer number of expatriates in Houston also helps to offset that issue. On your list, only Maryland and the Bay Area match up. Moscow certainly did not have this advantage.

      Somebody mentioned the number of rugby diehards that attended the USAvIRE match, but failed to mention the number of expats that were in attendance. It was astounding. One couldn’t turn anywhere without hearing an non-American accent of some sort.

      The bid committee will have their hands full, that’s for sure. Personally, while I think Houston has proved its mettle in this respect, I also think that the Bay and DC Areas have the advantage judging by who is sitting at the head of the table…

      Cheers,
      G

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