Premier Rugby Sevens will double in size for the 2023 season, the upstart league announced Tuesday. Growing to eight franchises now tied to a specific region or city, each with a men’s and women’s team, PR7s will feature 16 total teams next year.
The expansion plans include two new franchises, one in Northern California and the second in Western Pennsylvania, as well as the reintroduction of a pair of franchises from PR7’s initial trial tournament in 2021: The New York Locals and Texas Team. As such, the 2023 rugby sevens season will feature a total of 192 players and an expanded 40-game slate, adding inventory for future broadcast partners. (The 2022 season included around 30 games across a trio of tournaments hosted at MLS stadiums in San Jose, Washington, D.C. and Austin.)
Having made its Olympic debut in 2016, rugby sevens features seven players per side and short, tournament-style matches lasting just 14 minutes—two seven-minute halves. Established as a single-entity league with a tour-based circuit model, where men’s and women’s teams played multiple games at one location over a festival-style weekend, PR7s will maintain the tournament format. The league hopes that attaching teams to a specific market will increase fan and potential partner connection to its franchises.
“There’s certainly a heightened commercial appeal in creating a larger format with more event dates in more top-tier markets around the U.S.,” PR7s CEO Owen Scannell said. “But it also creates a version of the sport that becomes a little bit more intuitive and understandable—the ‘New York Locals,’ fits the framework that people are used to understanding and processing sports [through], so the education threshold is a little lower. Connecting not just a venue to the competition, but rather a team to the venue and to the market, also helps linearize the process of getting partnerships that make sense on a localized basis.”
The new larger league will split teams between east and west conferences and feature intraconference tournaments. As part of conference play, select franchises will host a knockout-style “home” tournament within their respective North American markets. The top teams from each conference will meet at the championship tournament.
Scannell hopes expansion will grow the geographic reach of the league as well as the talent pool it attracts. Currently comprised predominantly of American and Canadian players, Rugby Sevens will look to add international talent for 2023. (Rugby has a particularly large audience in countries such as South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and England.) Scannell hopes that adding some of the world’s top players from abroad to PR7s will entice international viewers to follow a U.S.-centered sevens competition.
The expanded pool of men’s and women’s players will continue to be paid equally, a founding principle of PR7s, and all franchises will remain under league ownership, though Scannell said it is in the process of negotiating with additional third-party licensees to manage franchise operations as it grows. On-field operations of the league’s Loggerheads franchise are currently managed by Rhinos Rugby, a California-based training program and academy.
In addition to hosting tournaments, each franchise will help generate grassroots support for rugby sevens through localized community outreach. Youth clinics, rugby information sessions and open tryouts to scout regional talent are all part of those plans. PR7s, which is sanctioned by USA Rugby, hopes these efforts will expand pro rugby pathways in North America to national and Olympic teams with an eye on the Paris Summer Games in 2024.