"VANCOUVER , BC - MARCH 13: Fans at the Canada Sevens, the sixth round of the HSBC Sevens World Series at BC Place stadium on March 13 in Vancouver, British Columbia (Photo by Jeff Vinnick / Getty Images for HSBC)"

Fans among the record crowds at the Canada leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Vancouver in March. Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images for HSBC, and used here by courtesy of HSBC.

Our report on the future of rugby for HSBC has just been launched in Europe ahead of the Paris leg of the World Rugby Sevens’ Series. HSBC is a significant rugby sponsor. All the evidence suggests that the short version of the game is transforming the sport. As a result of sevens, rugby is one of the fastest growing sports in the world, fuelled  by a growth in both the number of unions worldwide and by a surge in the number of women players. Women’s sevens, for example, is the fastest growing sport in the USA.

This expansion has been built on three pillars: new countries, new players, and new audiences.

Long-term strategy

The development of these pillars has been part of a long-term strategy by World Rugby, using the increasing revenues from the four-yearly World Cup to finance investment in the game. But we think it’s down to more than that. When you look at the trends around sports participation and engagement, they are paradoxical.

As we say in the report,

“One of the curiosities of leisure in the 21st century is that as everything becomes more available digitally, so the experience of being there becomes more important, not less so. It becomes increasingly important that the live experience is memorable even as the audio-visual experience becomes richer and more immersive. … We see a sports future where the live experience is more distinctive than ever, where the digital fragments are more ubiquitous, and one where, as fans, we want our sports performers to be more superhuman on the pitch and more human off it. It is a set of paradoxes that sevens is well positioned to resolve.”

The sevens events are carnivals, weekend festivals at which there is good access to players, but the games themselves are compressed, and the best action is often measured in seconds rather than minutes. Although the first sevens’ tournament was played in 1883, it is as if it were designed for social media. But there’s something about the demands of the game itself as well. As participants, we want our sport to be tough, and sevens demands repeated lung-busting efforts and rapid recovery. In an age when there is less contact, we like contact sports more. And finally, tactically, it has none of the complexity of fifteens rugby. The one over-riding instruction is not to give the ball away. It is tough to play, but it is simple to understand.

The report can be downloaded here as a pdf: the-future-of-rugby-an-hsbc-report

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