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Column: What Now for the CRC?

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Column: What Now for the CRC?

One more CRC down and some serous questions to ask about the college 7s game and the event.

Remember that the CRC is a business - it's put together to grow fan interest in the game and get fans to buy tickets or watch on TV - and the decisions made by United World Sports are business decisions. Hence the decision to switch the semifinals at the last minute.

The plan had been to have the quarterfinals be 1 v 8 and 4 v 5, with the winners playing each other, and 2 v 7 and 3 v 6, with the winners playing each other. That didn't happen, as, after the quarterfinals, the matchups were changed so that Cal would play UCLA and Life would play Kutztown. These pairings would ensure that a name school (Cal or UCLA) would be in the final.

Now, put aside the fact that you don't change your brackets mid-competition (we all know that so why belabor the point?), you see how the reasoning goes - oh man, Cal has to play Kutztown and Life plays UCLA - we're going to have a possibility of two no-name teams in the final. We need to switch that up!

In the end I think the switch was unnecessary, although a punishing Kutztown team might have worn down Cal sufficiently for them to lose in the final. I haven't seen the ratings for the final games, but I hope they are good because the Cup Semifinals and the Final were all compelling.

But ...

That's not everything.

There's more to the CRC than having three exciting matches. The exciting matches serve nicely as a showpiece for the game for America, but the rest needs work. Attendance for Saturday was down quite significantly, dropping below 10,000. Attendance for Sunday was up (thanks in part to Kutztown doing well), and overall the announced attendance of 17,529 was about what the tournament has had for the last four years. Despite increasing the number of teams involved; despite increasing the number of local teams involved; and despite increasing the satellite competitions, attendance is flat.

(Never mind how much of that attendance is "paid." Many, if not most, sports events attendance figures include everyone there, paid or not. But if you tae the average price ticket and multiply it by 17,529, you will likely overestimate, drastically, the gate for the CRC.)

Why is attendance flat? Well a few thoughts come to mind:

1. The tournament is held the same weekend as the club championships, and there is always at least one and usually more teams from an area within driving distance of Philadelphia playing in those championships. That hurts attendance.

2. Culture. If you are holding a college sports event in America, you should hold it where sports fans are used to the idea of spending money and time to watch college sports. The Northeast is exactly the wrong place to be. Yes, you might get the high-income Ivy League grads, but you won't get volume. Think of the colleges that get 50,000-100,000 fans at football games, and you don't think New England, New York, or (with the exception of Penn State), Pennsylvania.

3. Rugby fans. United World Sports wants to target the general sports fan. That's why they work hard to explain the game, have cheerleaders and guys dressed up as a bee and a rhinoceros. That's why they invite well-known colleges. But ... UWS has hedged their bets with teams from the Northeast that really aren't very good. The kids work very hard and play hard and are learning how to play good 7s, but they are nowhere near as good as several teams not invited to Chester, Pa. Now, the fan new to rugby might not know this, but he or she can pick it up pretty quickly when a team gets blown out. Meanwhile, general rugby fans already know that this is a tournament without Arkansas State, without St. Mary's, without Central Washington. They know it's not the best teams from around the country, and some fans won't come because of that.

(To be fair, this year's CRC was more competitive than in other years, with only one game seeing a winning margin over 40, and with six other games over 30, the tournament compares favorably with USA Rugby's own college 7s championships.)

4a. Location. PPL Park is a nice enough stadium with some comfy seats and a nice view of the Delaware River, but the area around it is not nice at all, and you cannot leave the stadium to go walk around, have a Frappuccino (TM) and chill for an hour.

4b. As a result, the tournament is tough for non-rugby fans. Two years ago tournament director Donal Walsh told me he was looking into finding a way to avoid having fans wait around for three hours to see their team play a second time. But what happened was the CRC added four more teams, making the gap between games larger.

So ... they put the first round of games on Friday, and basically made sure fans wouldn't come watch those games (because if they did, they might not show on Saturday or Sunder and that would be bad for TV). Fans still had to wait a long time between their team's games on Saturday, but only once. And, as we said in point 4a, they had nowhere to go.

5. The other tournaments at the CRC - the women, and the high school and NSCRO games (I won't even discuss the "Super 7s" thing) were played away from PPL Park. Only the finals were played in PPL, and then with no TV coverage. Many of the players who were in those tournaments showed up for the festivities at PPL, but not all were happy about it (see here). You cannot - CANNOT - take anyone for granted in this business. 


Meanwhile, USA Rugby created their own college 7s championship in response to the development of the CRC, and made some of the same mistakes. If you're creating a championship, focus on getting the best, not filling out the slots so you have a lot of teams. USA Rugby's timing leaves something to be desired, also. 


So, where now?

Move to San Jose. The rumors are rife and they are legit. CRC should move to the new San Jose Earthquakes stadium set to be finished in time. Santa Clara's Buck Shaw Stadium is nearby and can host extra tournaments in the right atmosphere.

Shrink the CRC. Get 16 really good teams there. Being in Northern California, you can do that and still have local participation.

Talk to USA Rugby, and see if there can't be some sort of partnership.

Bring back the qualification tournament at the LVI. Eliminating that was short-sighted, to say the least.

And have a little more faith that good rugby - good performance in any sport - is atractive in its own right.