Vehicle for growth: Bringing new fans to World Rugby SVNS through a revolutionary new look, format and production

World Rugby revamped SVNS with an ambition to supercharge rugby’s global fanbase by being more relevant and accessible to younger audiences

SVNS is the supercharged new identity for World Rugby’s Olympic-focussed seven aside format, aimed at broadening the reach and appeal of the sport beyond its traditional audiences. Launched just one year ago, the Grand Final weekend has just taken place in Madrid and World Rugby has told SVG Europe that the new format and its corresponding broadcast is definitely doing what it was created to do.

World Rugby revamped SVNS with an ambition to supercharge rugby’s global fanbase by being more relevant and accessible to younger audiences. SVNS aims to deliver immersive experiences, with a unique festival of sport, entertainment and culture set against stunning backdrops around the world.

Speaking to SVG Europe, James Rothwell, World Rugby’s chief marketing content officer, comments on those ambitions: “SVNS is an amazing vehicle to grow the game globally. Over the last couple of years, World Rugby has been on a business transformation to in-house our broadcast production, our ticketing, our event delivery, and really take a lot more ownership over the way that we present our competitions to fans and our commercial rights.

“I think what’s so exciting about SVNS is it really bridges the gap between avid rugby fans and casual rugby fans, and actually just big eventers and fans of lifestyle and entertainment that want an incredible weekend”

“As we’ve dived deeper and deeper into SVNS, we’ve acknowledged that it holds something very special, which can be very important for growing the game globally. If you go to a SVNS event, it’s as much an entertainment experience and a festival as it is an incredible rugby competition. It has diverse fans around the world, it naturally attracts younger audiences, better gender parity, it’s played in different markets around the world and we really see it as being a vehicle that can help us to introduce rugby as a sport to new audiences and build its global footprint,” he continues.

Rothwell goes on: “So when we relaunched the series about a year ago, the ambition was to deliver a brand, an event promise, a broadcast, and a competition structure that was really focused on engaging that younger global audience, that was focused on building entertainment experiences around of incredible rugby products.

“And [to create something that] could build momentum in the sport leading up to what’s inevitably going to be the most iconic moment in SVNS’ history, which will be the Paris Olympics, when we’ll have six back to back days of a sold out Stade de France. So it was really about building a brand and identity and experience for the SVNS series that was befitting of the audience that we’d been engaging with over the last couple of years.”

Where the magic happens… crew from Sunset+Vine, the host broadcaster for SVNS, in the VT area

Sport as entertainment

To complement the new brand and feel of the game itself, World Rugby had to consider its objective for the broadcast. On how it approached that, Steve Jamieson, World Rugby’s executive producer and director of live events, says: “Well first of all, SVNS is rugby, but it’s completely different to 15s. I’ve been involved with the SVNS since the day it started and it’s had a lot of growth. As James said, it’s bought in a different sort of atmosphere, entertainment, different crowds, but it’s still rugby.

“It it’s in your face, it’s out there, and it was easy to get that look and feel into the broadcast, and into the graphics as well”

“For me, with the broadcast, I see sport as entertainment,” continues Jamieson. “Yes, there’s a winner, the drama and all that, but it is entertainment. I want people at home to feel like they’re in the stadium. So that’s why we needed to show the crowds and the fans and the party atmosphere, as well as the drama on the field. When the game’s on, we show the game 100%, but we do more crowd shots, say, just to create that feeling of being in the stadium.”

With12 men’s teams and 12 women’s teams playing, up to 24 countries are involved in the SVNS during a single tournament. That not only creates an international feel but also something of a festival atmosphere, which World Rugby has been fostering and bringing into its broadcast so viewers at home feel like they are in the stadium.

Comments Jamieson: “In one corner you’ll have a huge group of Kenyans, in another corner a huge group of Fijians. So it’s bringing all that international feel into the stadium, but that also comes through the screen.

“The approach for the broadcast did need a refresh,” admits Jamieson. “It just needed freshening up and needed something new. And this is where James and our marketing and brand people came up with this really brilliant concept. It it’s in your face, it’s out there, and it was easy to get that look and feel into the broadcast, and into the graphics as well.”

April in Hong Kong with Sunset+Vine cameras one and two following the action for World Rugby

Social media beginnings

World Rugby is also working to bring SVNS to social media as well, in a bid to draw younger viewers from those platforms to the linear broadcast. It is utilising commentators that can handle both, says Jamieson: “We select commentators who can commentate well for social media. What I mean is they’ll commentate a great try, but they do good strong statements that can quickly get clipped up in 15 seconds and out on TikTok and Instagram. We really want to use our social channels as well because if that grows, if people are watching the social channels going, “oh, what’s this? Where do I see this?” then that brings them to the broadcast.”

However, Jamieson adds: “We are really respectful of the game. We show everything about the game, but we want to bring a bit more of a party atmosphere so that there’s so much going on, you can’t change channels. It’s an eight hour day and no one’s going to watch TV for eight hours, so how do we keep them there? We want them to be thinking, “ah, if I changed station, I’m going to miss something”. So that’s our approach; really, really in your face, bright, positive all the time. We’re going after the same audience [for the linear broadcast as] James’s digital team’s going after; they’re younger, because that’s how we grow the game.”

Inside the OB in Cape Town for the new-look SVNS

New fans, young fans, female fans

On the audience World Rugby is now trying to draw into SVNS, Rothwell says: “I think what’s so exciting about SVNS is it really bridges the gap between avid rugby fans and casual rugby fans, and actually just big eventers and fans of lifestyle and entertainment that want an incredible weekend. It really varies market by market.

“When we pitch up to Cape Town, we get a real avid rugby fan base. Hong Kong is a global cultural festival; Hong Kong SVNS is famous the world over for music and entertainment. Then we also take rugby to new markets like Singapore. Madrid SVNS the other weekend [31 May to 2 June 2024] was incredible.”

Watch: James Rothwell on how World Rugby is using audiovisual content to attract/engage fans.

Rothwell goes on: “SVNS has been really instrumental in driving ticket purchases with younger audiences and more female audiences; about 40% of our ticket purchases for SVNS are female, so about 50% of ticket holders are female. We’ve achieved that gender parity in the same way that we have on the field of the tournament structure. That isn’t the case in fifteens, so we’re really encouraged. We’re seeing about 50%-plus of our audience aged 18 to 34. Some of the fans are actually new to rugby – we don’t have them in our database – they’re buying their first rugby ticket.

“We’re also seeing different digital audiences engage with us on TikTok, and on our streaming products. So we know that we’re bringing new, younger, more diverse audiences into the sport. But we know we still have a fantastic proposition for avid rugby fans because when we’re in core rugby markets, we still have that rugby spectacle on the field and fandom to match it. I think that’s one of the real propositions of SVNS. That’s why we’re investing in it in the way we are,” Rothwell concludes.

All SVNS events in this first season of the new-look tournament have showcased the 12 best men’s and women’s teams, climaxing in a Grand Final weekend held in Madrid, where the top eight teams competed to be crowned Series champions. Teams ranked ninth to twelfth fought it out against the top four teams from the Challenger Series in a relegation play-off to secure their place in next year’s edition.

The SVNS 2024 Grand Final and Play Off events took place at Civitas Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid on 31 May to 2 June 2024.

 

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