The dust is still settling for Rugby Canada following this past weekend’s highly successful inaugural World Rugby Sevens Series tournament in Vancouver, but there has been nothing but praise from fans, teams, businesses, and organizers.
Over 60,000 people from around the world, many dressed in comical costumes, descended onto B.C. Place Stadium over two days for the Canada Sevens tournament – the sixth of 10 stops on World Rugby’s annual touring tournament.
Organizers had no expectations to sell out the lower bowl seats for a first-year event, but that milestone was reached on February 25, well in advance of the tournament. Due to demand, an additional 5,000 seats were opened up in an upper bowl section and that too became a sell out just before the weekend started.
And given this year’s stellar performance, there will be a push to fill both the upper and lower bowl of the stadium – to reach the 50,000 seat mark.
“We are completely elated with the success of the event in year one,” Michelle Collens, Manager for the City of Vancouver’s Sport Hosting Vancouver department, told Vancity Buzz. “I think it blew away all expectations of what a city could do in the inaugural year.”
“Right away, I think fans who came on Saturday but didn’t really understand the concept of the costumes and the excitement returned on Sunday with a whole new view and a whole new costume on to make sure they got into it like everyone else… I think it’s the perfect fan engagement event in regards to its high pace and lots of turnovers with regards to the teams on the field of play. You don’t have to know the rules to know what’s going on.”
Given that there were 16 national teams from around the world competing, Collens believes that the multicultural makeup of Vancouver contributed to the event’s lively atmosphere and high turnout. A total of 45 high-scoring, fast paced games of 14 minutes each were played throughout the entire weekend.
“Every game to somebody in the stadium was important,” she said. “But if you go to places like Dubai, you won’t see many fans from Brazil or other countries whereas in Vancouver you see someone cheering for every team that was there. People come for the all day experience and the stands were full.”
Organizers in other host cities like Dubai, Hong Kong, and London were told to not expect to have more than 1,200 people in the stadium for the first game in the morning. But in Vancouver on Saturday morning, there were 15,000 people in the building for the first game at 9:30 a.m.
Vancouver’s overall weekend numbers also rival those of Las Vegas, which hosted its 10th annual tournament earlier in March. It attracted 80,000 people over a different three day schedule as organizers decided to reduce the tournament hours on Saturday and Sunday and spread it over three days beginning on Friday.
Feedback was also highly positive from the field. Collens said the teams were highly impressed with the stadium and overall experience, including the playing conditions of the new FIFA and World Rugby-approved turf that was installed last summer in time for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“They said in year one, we blew them already with the organization capacity in regards to the tournament being well organized. And the turf is ten times [better than] what they played on in Las Vegas, which is pretty much a dirt bowl. They said it took a game to get used to the bounce of the ball, but other than that there was no problem whatsoever. They said the city really absorbed it, it was the best all day experience for a player.”
Bryan Kelly, the Manager of Communications and Media Relations for Rugby Canada, says he received similar comments: “We had a number of players from various countries like Australia, France, England, and New Zealand saying this was one of the best stops they had ever played in. There was incredibly positive feedback from everyone – sponsors, fans, players, tournament staff… it was just an incredible weekend for Canadian rugby.”
A full assessment of the tournament’s economic impact on the city will be made in the coming weeks, but preliminary indications are highly positive for hotels, restaurants, and bars. It provided the hospitality industry with a big boost during what is typically a slow period for tourism.
“The tourists were here this weekend specifically because of rugby, it wasn’t because it was in the middle of summer and while they were here they picked up a ticket to watch rugby,” Collens continued. “The event was a perfect example of motivation tourism, tourism that is motivated by a specific event. It was a win-win for everyone in the city.”
Vancouver was chosen by Rugby Canada as Canada’s entry to compete with 25 other global cities for one of the five open spots on the circuit. The city joins Cape Town, Paris, Singapore, and Sydney as guaranteed tournament hosts for four years, with the option to renew for additional terms following an evaluation on the event’s performance in each city.
“We want to thank all the fans for coming out in droves and supporting this event,” said Kelly. “We knew that Vancouver was a great sport city and the people would come out, and that’s exactly what they did.”
With consideration to the high attendance numbers for the FIFA Women’s World Cup and Canada Sevens tournaments, B.C. Place has quickly become the home stadium of choice for both the Canadian Soccer Association and Rugby Canada.
The stadium is scheduled to host another 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier on March 25 between the national men’s soccer teams of Canada and Mexico, and to date over 40,000 tickets for the match have already been sold. And then on June 11, rugby will return to the stadium with a Men’s Rugby XV test match between the national teams of Canada and Japan.