World Rugby Sevens Series Changes Confirmed
World Rugby confirmed the changes for the future of the HSBC World Sevens Series, but most of these had already been made known at the Hong Kong Sevens in October 2022. A new number of events, equal pay for women and men, increased fan engagement and new team pathways.
The governing body said the “remodelled Series will include seven festival-style events, in seven iconic global destinations, across seven months, featuring the best 12 men’s and 12 women’s teams and is set to kick off in December 2023.” The first edition of the remodelled Series is expected to run from December 2023 through June 2024.
It had already been announced that the Men’s Series would drop down to 12 teams from next season, which also has severe implications for the teams trying to qualify via the Challenger Series and adds extra obstacles for the teams trying to gain promotion as a Core side.
World Rugby is adamant that the changes were needed to offer a “fully combined and equal men’s and women’s Series with the number of men’s teams reduced from 16 to 12, aligning with the Olympic competition model.”
World Rugby Chief Executive Alan Gilpin said: “The reimagined Sevens World Series will be a game-changer for the global growth of the game. Research insights have demonstrated that sevens plays a vital role in reaching and engaging new rugby fans, particularly in emerging rugby nations and with younger audiences.”
What Are The Main Changes To The World Sevens Series From 2023-2024?
Among the changes listed by World Rugby and other media were:
- An annual ‘Grand Finale’ event will crown Series champions and offer pathway opportunities for four men’s and women’s teams to achieve promotion from the Challenger Series.
- Hosts, competition dates and new brand identity to be unveiled in due course.
- Men’s and women’s teams will receive equal participation fees, with a 70 per cent uplift in World Rugby’s investment in participation fees in the new model.
- Host events will take place over three days – the aim for each venue is to host at least 80,000 fans across the span of three days reported RugbyPass.
- The plan is to deliver more environmentally sustainable events in line with the World Rugby Environmental Sustainability Plan 2030 launched earlier in 2022.
Gilpin added, “Moving to full gender parity between the men’s and women’s Series reflects not just our commitment to accelerating the women’s game, but also recognition of the powerful personalities who are inspiring a new generation of fans across the globe.”
World Rugby hopes the changes will set to grow fans and revenues but there have already been some pushback and questions raised over the changes. They add that their “Innovative vision is to build a leading sports and entertainment brand by widening the event experience offering and engaging with youth culture.”
At the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2022, a number of new initiatives were trialled by the HKRU including NFT and increased digital engagement.
Challenger Series Consequences & World Series Promotion
The newly proposed “Grand Finale” event will take place in the seventh and final round, with only the top eight ranked teams after six rounds competing to be crowned Series champions.
Teams ranked ninth to 12th will join the top four ranked teams from the Challenger Series in a relegation play-off competition which will see four teams secure their places in the next edition of the Series.
The four unsuccessful teams will go into regional competitions to qualify for the next Challenger Series, which comprises of 12 men’s and 12 women’s teams competing in the second level of international rugby sevens.
World Rugby Chief Revenue and Fan Engagement Officer Richard Heaselgrave added: “The simple aim of the remodelled Series is to grow the game by reaching more fans, generating greater revenues to reinvest in performance, and deliver bigger, better and more engaging and entertaining event experiences for fans in the stadium, interacting online or watching on broadcast around the world.
Rugby sevens is a sport like no other. The action is non-stop. The Sevens World Series will showcase the physical and skilful prowess of some of the world’s most impressive athletes in multi-day festivals of vibrant celebration and entertainment. The future of rugby sevens is very bright.”
On the Challenger Series, we still have no word from Asia Rugby or World Rugby on the overall pathway framework – we assume based on the results of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series 2022, Hong Kong and Korean men as well as China and Thailand women have qualified.
As both Japanese men and women are already playing as core teams and will need to avoid finishing in the bottom teams in the World Series 2023, otherwise they will drop into the Challenger play-off event unless they finish last and will be relegated.
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