Weekends of all-action entertainment both on and off the pitch like the HSBC SVNS Cape Town are what will grow the game of rugby according to Alan Gilpin, the CEO of World Rugby.

Gilpin was speaking on the second day of the revamped tournament, where thousands of fans have flocked to what has this year been hailed as a next-level entertainment experience. Over 40 artists have performed across three stages throughout the weekend with music, food and drink, fitness challenges, DJs and dancing central to the action.

“We’re thrilled to have welcomed more than 80,000 people across the two days here in the magnificent Cape Town stadium, it’s great to be back here,” Gilpin said.

“Really what you’re seeing is sevens being slightly reborn, absolutely with the sport at the heart of what we’re doing, but attracting fans in a different way, a slightly younger demographic by providing a lot more entertainment and a lot more fun around what we’re doing with rugby sevens.”

Gilpin said the target market for the rebranded HSBC SVNS, which started in Dubai last weekend, is 18 to 34-year-olds who are more likely to attend an event that has more on offer.

“I think what we’ve seen is that’s a demographic that is hard to reach with any traditional sport, with the pure sports product. They’re an audience that you can reach for a longer period of time if you’re bombarding their senses across a wider range of entertainment – health and wellbeing, food and drink and travel being a big part of the SVNS series as well.

“So that demographic – if we’re going to have a sport that’s growing globally and sustainably so they’re going to be the rugby fans of the future more broadly, we need to get them involved in rugby as early as possible and hold them. We really believe that sevens and this version of sevens, as an all-action entertainment product, can do that.

“That’s something we’ve been working on for a few years. It’s been brilliant to bring that to life – last week in Dubai and now in Cape Town. This is a real springboard for us in what is a massive year for rugby sevens, obviously culminating in the Olympic Games in Paris next July.”

World Rugby’s Director of Experiential Greta Cooper explained: “Rugby will always remain at the heart of everything we do but we’re tapping into the passion points and what 18 to 34-year-olds really engage with. We’re doing that through food and drink, music and entertainment, and health and wellness.”

Cooper added that the “always-on entertainment strategy” which included DJs and entertainment within the stadium bowl and on the surrounding concourse, which featured a Beach Club, Sun Stage and Love Garden, had been hugely successful so far by engaging fans throughout the day. “We had DJ Zinhle, who has over five million Instagram followers, out there and she was incredible last night. That’s what we want to tap into – how you have an elongated day [of entertainment] is what we’re all after as well,” she said. 

“Sevens does a job for rugby that other parts of the sport don’t do,” added Gilpin. “It definitely entertains in a different way. All over the world it attracts new fans to rugby that 15s doesn’t necessarily do so redialing up that part of sevens that does that – not just great action on the field with some amazing athletes as we’ve seen, but all the things we can do around that to keep people entertained for a full weekend. That’s a really important role for Sevens and yes, we’re off to a great start but there’s lots more work to do.”

The HSBC SVNS continues in Perth, Australia on 26-28 January 2024.