World Rugby will aim to take the sevens format of the sport into a new era next month when its revamped SVNS series launches in Dubai, promising to “bring the biggest party to town” for event hosts.

Title sponsored by HSBC, which has backed rugby sevens for the past 12 years, the SVNS concept is a rebirth of the World Rugby Sevens Series, which first launched in the 1999-2000 season. SVNS will debut at The Sevens Stadium in Dubai on December 2-3, with the Australian city of Perth joining Madrid as a new host of what will now be officially dubbed ‘festivals’ featuring 12 men’s and women’s teams sharing the global stage at the same location.

The 2023-24 season will also take in stops in Cape Town, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Singapore, before culminating with the Grand Final in the Spanish capital.

Commenting on the rationale behind the revamp, Greta Cooper, World Rugby Director of Experiential, told Fan XP: “Over the past 20 years the Sevens Series has provided an excellent platform to grow the game, and created many unforgettable moments in spectacular destinations around the world, which led to the pivotal moment of the sport being added to the Olympic programme for the Rio 2016 Games.

“HSBC SVNS is the start of a new era for rugby sevens and an opportunity to elevate its profile to a new level. There has never been a more exciting time for the short-format game, which is proven to attract new participants and fans to the sport, particularly in emerging nations, as World Rugby continues its strong commitment to growing the global game for all as we move towards the Olympic Games Paris 2024.

“Rugby sevens players are some of the greatest all-round athletes on the planet, combining dynamism, speed, strength, agility with incredible rugby talent and crowds can expect fireworks, jeopardy and end-to-end drama on the pitch as sevens is taken to a whole new level in 2024.”

A festival atmosphere

Off the field, World Rugby has pledged that SVNS will combine rugby, music, food, and wellbeing to attract a new generation of audiences through a festival-style experience. Showcasing cuisine and culture, each SVNS destination will “celebrate its unique local flavour”.

There will also be a range of competitive and social sports for all at SVNS festivals, from non-contact rugby to functional fitness, with every event set to deliver something different.

Cooper said: “With a bold ambition to supercharge rugby’s global reach and appeal by being more relevant and accessible to younger, leisure-hungry audiences, HSBC SVNS events will combine rugby with a festival atmosphere, dialling up the entertainment and cultural elements to create a must-attend experience, in some of the world’s most attractive locations.

“We will amplify the activations surrounding the sport; by creating relatable content and unforgettable experiences that are rooted in promoting wellbeing and sociability. HSBC SVNS has a unique proposition that we are utilising to differentiate us from other popular events – at HSBC SVNS you are free to fully express yourself and enjoy it in a way that makes you feel good, for example dressing in costumes is welcomed and encouraged.

“Ultimately, we are seeking to bring the biggest party to town from sunrise to sunset. With rugby at the core, we are creating a precinct of experiences that are a destination drawcard for 18 to 34-year-old passion points within entertainment, food and drink, and mass participation.

“An attendee’s day could now start with entering our Turf Games functional fitness competition testing their amateur fitness and meeting a fellow like-minded community.

“Taking your seat in the bowl to watch the on-field action is set to offer a dedicated Party Stand and a new dynamic line up of sports presentation entertainment; whilst traditional hospitality has been reimagined with the introduction of Next Level Experiences – featuring a lounge called the Spring Hotel (pictured), embodying a USA boutique party with all the fun of 70s Spring Break.

“When the on-field action takes a break, a quintessential Beach Club with design cues from our sun filled locations such as Perth and Cape Town, will be the place for sunset sessions featuring a line-up of DJ beats, food and drink that combine for a party atmosphere.

“The traditional food and drink concourse trucks have also been reimagined as street food will come together with theatrical and musical integrated entertainment, taking inspiration from Madrid’s tapas culture and Singapore’s Deji street.

“It’s an offer that is also unique in the sports entertainment world. HSBC SVNS is about empowering people to feel their best and be their best, building and uniting new communities and offering a release.”

Unifying the event experience

Cooper states that the experiential activity for SVNS will be focused within the event environment, as opposed to establishing broader fan experience opportunities across the host cities.

For the first time in rugby sevens history, all locations will be unified under the same approach, meaning that the overall experience is the same. World Rugby has opted for this strategy to optimise commercial revenue for reinvestment, with a particular eye on targeting young adults.

Cooper explained: “Creating consistency across the events is key to building a successful brand focused and connecting with the 18 to 34-year-old target market. However, each destination will have its own unique flavour and experience for fans to enjoy.

“The ambition of the global team is to create a global brand instantly recognisable around the world. Centrally we will also deliver unified and diversified, rugby and lifestyle ‘always on’ content that connects each event to the next.

“We can also create in venue experiences that ensure we are continuing to raise the bar – attracting more fans who dwell longer and have up-close experiences with rugby.”

Competition changes

On the pitch, following consultation with players, fans, broadcasters and unions, the competition format has been revamped. The top eight placed teams, based on cumulative series points, at the conclusion of Singapore SVNS will secure their opportunity to compete in the new winner-takes-all Grand Final in Madrid, where the women’s and men’s SVNS champions will be crowned.

Madrid will also play host to the relegation play-off competition where teams ranked ninth to 12th will join the top four teams from the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series. The top four placed teams of this play-off will secure their place in the following season’s SVNS.

Under the new model, SVNS delivers gender parity with all seven rounds and the Grand Final featuring combined men’s and women’s competitions and equal participation fees, with a 70% uplift in World Rugby’s investment in participation fees as a commitment to sustainable growth.

The City of Madrid in March secured a three-year deal to host the Grand Final, with Mayor José Luis Martinez Almeida claiming it will be the most significant sporting event the city will stage in the coming years.

Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano, the home of LaLiga football club Atlético de Madrid, will be the setting from May 31 to June 2. Cooper said additional “special plans” for the Grand Final are currently being developed, adding that fans should “watch this space” to find out more.

Image credit: World Rugby