US Premier Rugby Sevens expands to 16 men’s and women’s teams

Domestic competition assigns state and regional team names in attempt to increase fan engagement

In 15-a-side rugby, the men’s US Eagles recently failed to reach the World Cup. But American sevens seems in contrasting health. On the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, the men’s and women’s national teams are on track to qualify for the next Olympics, in Paris.

At home, Premier Rugby Sevens, a professional competition seeking to establish itself on the sporting map, says it is also well placed to progress. On Tuesday, it announced it will double (to 16) the number of men’s and women’s teams competing next year, its third, teams for the first time named for states and regions.

The chief executive of PR7s is Owen Scannell, once a college player at Dartmouth and a staffer for the New England Free Jacks in Major League Rugby.

He said: “We wanted to give our fans the chance to have a professional team of their own and place teams into cities and markets. Our franchises will build localised fandom, engage with the local communities involved with and adjacent to rugby, and provide pathway opportunities for athletes.”

In PR7s, men’s and women’s teams play daylong tournaments for their own trophies and for a prize for combined results. In season three, beginning in June 2023, eight men’s teams and eight women’s teams will play in two conferences.

In the east, the New York Locals, Southern Headliners and Texas Team will be joined by a Western Pennsylvania squad whose name is open to fan suggestions. In the west, the Northern California team’s name is open. They will face the SoCal Loggerheads, Northern Loonies and Rocky Mountain Experts.

On Monday, the day New York’s MLR team announced a new name, the Ironworkers, Scannell was asked – from a coffee shop in Harlem – what New York sevens fans might expect from the new-named Locals (coincidentally, another tag with union echoes).

“The name, the brand, the colours,” Scannell said. “That’s kind of step one.

“A key piece of our upcoming plan is that we are working to plug into the ecosystem of rugby, as cooperatively and beneficially as possible. So a major component of the identification of the team is really the the grassroots associated efforts around it.

“But the New York Locals might not be the best example, actually, because of where our scheduling will be. Without giving away our schedule next year, because we’re working on finalising some things, say the franchise in northern California hosts a home game. In this new structure, as opposed to kind of having a traveling festival, that home team will have the optimal run-out time, they’ll get the pyrotechnics and the merchandise as well. It’ll be really an event focused on this team that is anchoring the tournament.”

After a pilot event in Memphis in 2021, last summer PR7s staged tournaments in San Jose, Austin and Washington. It therefore seems safe to guess that San Jose will feature again. Pittsburgh too, given the Western Pennsylvania team.

Asked about PR7s’ ambitions in light of US international sevens success, Scannell was careful to delineate areas of influence.

“A key goal for PR7s is to create a top-tier competition that deepens the domestic player pool and hopefully bolsters the international teams and coaches,” he said.

“We’re always thrilled to see PR7s athletes make the jump to the international sevens level and for the US teams to perform well. We continue to have a very positive relationship with USA Rugby high performance and will actively look to ensure we’re helping to develop the sevens ecosystem productively.”


Martin Pengelly in New York

The GuardianTramp

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