What Happened To The USA 7s?
What Happened To The USA 7s?
The USA 7s is going back to Carson, CA, where it began back in 2004.
That 2004 event lasted two days and drew about 11,000 fans in total. Expect it to be a bit better attended this time around.
How did we get here? What happens to all the trappings from Las Vegas? Who profits? Who loses?
In discussing the ongoing drama with the USA 7s I have been struck by how many people don’t know what United World Sports is, and don’t know what role USA Rugby has played in the USA 7s.
Here’s a very quick history lesson.
In 2004 USA Rugby was given the rights to a stop on the World Rugby Men’s Sevens World Series. With not a lot of time to plan, the organization held the event at what was then Home Depot Center in Carson, CA, and did it again in 2005. The event didn’t draw a lot of fans (but was fun to attend anyway), and lost money.
USA Rugby needed a private partner to run the event full-time. A. John Prusmack, businessman, longtime rugby player, referee, and coach, came in and bought the rights from USA Rugby. The deal was with Prusmack personally, which is important.
Prusmack later formed a company that went through a couple of name changes before settling on United World Sports. What became UWS ran the USA 7s in the LA area in 2006, and the moved it to PETCO Park in San Diego. The event increase dramatically in attendance during that time.
(My old website, GoffonRugby, was subsumed into United World Sports and became part of what was later Rugbymag.com. The attendance grew once I joined the company. Coincidence?)
PETCO Park was expensive, and Prusmack wanted more bang for his buck, so they upped and moved to Las Vegas in 2010, and grew the event to become a massive success.
(Crowds in Las Vegas were in the high 30,000s in 2010 and increased rapidly to top 80,000 over the three days for 2016 and 2017. In 2018, the attendance dropped about 20% in part because some fans opted to go to the RWC 7s later that year.)
United World Sports paid USA Rugby a licensing fee every year to host the USA 7s. In addition, UWS was to pay USA Rugby a percentage of profits back to USA Rugby. According to our sources, UWS never paid that profit percentage, thus implying that the event never made a profit.
However, this is complicated by the fact that UWS also ran the CRC 7s, and what is, for now, Rugby Today, and the Varsity Cup. What was revenue and what was overhead for those events? It’s not easily made clear.
The deal also was with Jon Prusmack, not with the company he formed. That’s key.
The deal was also contingent on World Rugby approval. Every four years, World Rugby expects Sevens World Series hosts to re-apply. Sometimes they don’t get to be hosts anymore. Back in 2015, United World Sports was in very great danger of losing hosting rights.
The Falling Out
There were several problems with the USA 7s in Las Vegas. The field was too narrow. The surface—iffy grass, then scratchy artificial turf, then iffier grass on top of turf. The hotels were too smokey for the players. The venue is a 30-minute rive from town. The image of Las Vegas was at odds with an event that embraced all ages and cultures, and which was supported heavily by a youth-heavy invitational tournament.
UWS executives were notoriously difficult to deal with, and after barely making their case to keep the tournament for another four years back in 2015, found themselves on the outside after 2019. World Rugby simply didn’t approve the application for renewal.
United World Sports sued USA Rugby, saying USA Rugby hadn’t backed them up. That case is still ongoing, but the agreement between USA Rugby and UWS includes an arbitration clause, so the hope is everything will be settled soon.
Meanwhile, sadly, Jon Prusmack died. He had been battling cancer, and the man who had sunk millions of dollars into this tournament through his love of the game, passed away in December.
That meant there was no remaining deal with USA Rugby.
The 2019 USA 7s went off anyway, as did the CRC, but that was it. A few weeks after the CRC, most of the United World Sports staff was out of a job, as there was no USA 7s to run, and thus no basis for a business that could also support the CRC or Rugby Today.
World Rugby has the rights to the USA 7s. Last year, after denying the renewal to United World Sports, World Rugby started looking for cities in the United States to submit hosting proposals. Twenty-five cities were asked, and 18 expressed an interest. Eventually most dropped out because, unlike Las Vegas, they don’t have a massive events arm.
Los Angeles remained, in part because it has a pretty strong connection to some events companies. There has been no word on who will actually run this tournament, but I can tell you this:
1. World Rugby is in charge.
2. USA Rugby is not involved in a commercial way. They might support the event as a cheerleader, but that’s about it. Because of USA Rugby’s connection with United World Sports, USA Rugby isn’t running the new USA 7s.
3. Events company AEG, and broadcast NBC, have several properties and partnerships in LA. Just sayin’.
Will There Be An LAI?
Signs point to yes. If you were at the USA 7s in Carson in 2005, you’ll notice now that the area is much nicer and more built-out. There are more places to go nearby, and there’s a complex of sports fields, including an additional stadium.
For sure a Los Angeles Invitational can be held there and whatever entity runs this event would be bonkers not to have one.
So To Recap
United World Sports was a private company that ran USA 7s for 14 years.
UWS lost the rights to the USA 7s because World Rugby didn’t think they were making enough effort to make the tournament nicer.
USA Rugby’s agreement with UWS precluded USA Rugby from pursuing hosting of a tournament …
But World Rugby could on its own, and did, and chose Los Angeles.
United World Sports is essentially non-operational as a company at the moment. Its founder, A. Jon Pursmack, died in December and his wife, Patti, has laid off most of the work force.
World Rugby, presumably with a private company specializing in events, will run the USA 7s. USA Rugby will have no commercial stake in it (and no risk).
There will almost certainly be a satellite invitational tournament.