Rugby took a $700,000 hit to recast the Sydney Sevens as a world-leading example of gender equality in sport.
Just as star sevens player Charlotte Caslick was demanding organisers go one step further in combining the men’s and women’s legs of the world series in Sydney, Rugby was coming to grips with the cost of changing the date of the event this year.
The tournament attracted 54,875 people across the Day long weekend, down more than 20 per cent on last year’s crowd of 75,000. At an average cost of $35 a ticket, that means a $700,000 shortfall in gate revenue for Rugby .
It is a disappointing result for the game’s governing body, which requested a date swap with the New Zealand leg in order to stage the first fully integrated men’s and women’s competition on the Sevens World Series circuit.
The swap brought forward the event by a week, putting it on a collision course with a rare Day long weekend and a Foo Fighters concert that drew 50,000 people to ANZ Stadium.
There were also critics within the organisation. Caslick, the highest profile member of the champion women’s team, railed against what she interpreted as a deliberate attempt to confine the women to the morning session at Allianz Stadium while giving the men the plum evening time slots.
“It was alright, can’t say I loved it,” she said, referring to the time slots.
“I think we can still improve; I’d love to see the men and women combined more. It’s pretty s–t when you run out at nine o’clock in the morning and no-one’s turned up yet.
“I’d love to see Sydney and the rest of the tournaments create more of a unanimous tournament.”
Rugby chief executive Raelene Castle said she could see where Caslick was coming from.
“There’s some merit in them, absolutely, but we need to understand that the women’s game has come a long way in five years and even as recently as 12 months ago we had the girls playing on the outside oval and only moving into the main stadium for their finals,” Castle said.
“We’ve made a big step forward in having a fully integrated tournament and we’re now one of only two tournaments in the world where the men and women are combined. That poses some really big challenges.”
The news was not all bad for the code. On top of the women’s history-making 213-0 performance across the competition and the men’s drought-breaking upset win over South Africa’s Blitzboks, Fox Sports reported a 13 per cent rise in television ratings across the weekend.
The women’s final drew 62,000 viewers on Sunday afternoon while the men drew 70,000 – a solid result given it was competing with the n Open final and the ODI cricket.
Rugby and World Rugby faced a backlash last year after making the women’s teams play on a training field across the road from the main stadium. It is the same arrangement used in Dubai, but was seen as poor treatment for the n women in particular, who were fresh from a historic gold medal triumph at the Rio Olympics.
Rugby requested the men’s and women’s competitions be fully integrated but to do this and New Zealand had to swap their events to satisfy player welfare guidelines on rest periods between tournaments.
On Sunday World Rugby boss Brett Gosper threw his support behind integrated tournaments and said the international governing body would help out financially to make it a viable commercial proposition for unions.
“We know it’s not easy to do in every country, we’re going through the tender process now for the next World Series, we’ll incentivise countries who can combine the women’s event with a men’s event,” Gosper said.
“We’re bullish about it, know we can’t get all 10 [World Series] destinations to that but we’ll push to increase that number each cycle.
“There’s a commercial push, not just a moral desire to get the women out there, a commercial belief that it’s good for business.”