HSBC Canada Sevens: Part 1-Building an Unprecedented Bid For The HSBC World Rugby Sevens

Today we have a guest writer, Auburn Sigurdson, Director of Brand & Strategy from our sister agency TORQUE Strategies. Below she’s outlined part 1 of our relationship with Rugby Canada & the HSBC Canada Sevens, building the initial bid that was submitted to World Rugby. Stay tuned for a TTG Partnerships Part 2!

Auburn Sigurdson
Director, Brand & Strategy

Three years ago a file landed on my desk – Rugby Canada was preparing to declare their intent to bid to host a tour stop of the illustrious HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series (then called the HSBC Sevens World Series), and they sought us out to help.

I didn’t know much about the sport, admittedly, let alone the scope and scale of the Sevens Series and its international appeal. The star studded roster of consultants that came together to form the bid committee, showcased just how big a deal this opportunity really was for Vancouver.

The Brief:

-Annual Audience Size 600 Thousand  In-Venue, 900 Million Broadcast, 5 Million Digital Broadcast

-4,500 Hours of Coverage reaching 149 Countries and 390 Million homes worldwide

-Originally a 9-stop international tour, expanding to 10 for the 2015-16 season, the Sevens Series provides its audience 45 thrilling 14-minute games of rugby over the course of each weekend. Teams pick up series points at each tour stop with winners crowned at each and an overall champion decided at the end of the season.

-With just 7 players a-side playing on a full-sized field – the sport is lightning fast, with tries scored on average every 90 seconds.

-The real oddity though, is the action in the stands, with fans arriving in full-on costume (aka “Fancy Dress”) creating a hilarious party atmosphere that spills out into the streets injecting the city with festive energy and celebration.

In the very first meeting, bid committee chair John Furlong stood up and opened the meeting with a vision and a very direct challenge to each person sitting around the table.

If we are going to do this, we cannot bid simply to host a stop on the tour – we have to make a commitment to ourselves, to World Rugby and each and every athlete and fan, that we will become the best stop on the tour. Number one, nothing less.

This vision wasn’t about ego – it was about effort, and making a commitment to realize the potential this opportunity holds not just for a single weekend in Vancouver, but for the entire country for many years to come. The Sevens Series shines a light on each tour stop annually, bringing with it energy, passion and excitement year after year — not to mention tourism and vast economic impact. Perhaps more importantly, it leaves behind an incredible legacy for the sport inspiring generations of future ‘ruggers’, building the sport’s profile and potential.

And so, we rose to the challenge, promise and expectation.

(Hyphen Communications, 2014)

Many all-nighters, weekends and 2:00 am conference calls overseas later our bid submission, including a robust bid book, video, launch event and vintage rugby ball hand painted by local First Nations artist Corinne Hunt (designer of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic medals), was shipped to Ireland and hand delivered by global tour sponsor DHL.

The Canadian effort was deemed by World Rugby as the best they’ve ever received, leading the pack of over 20 competing submissions.

By early 2015, the news was official – we had won the right, honour and responsibility to host the world annually for a minimum of four years (2016-2019).

Thanks to our investment and deep commitment from day one, Rugby Canada awarded TORQUE Strategies and our sister agency TTG Partnerships (Formerly TwentyTen Group)  tournament Agencies of Record for marketing strategy, brand management, commercial optimization and sponsorship development.

While excitement and pride in the rugby community was palpable, we had a big hill to climb to educate our secondary audiences on the opportunity. We knew Vancouver was primed for another party – this city loves to celebrate, especially sport. But, naturally questions and worries arose.

-Would World Rugby and each nation’s athletes, coaches and support staff recognize how committed we are to becoming the best tour stop on the series – for both women and men?

-Would corporate Canada understand the magnitude of this opportunity – for brands, for consumers, for the community?

-Would Vancouverites understand what this product is? (fast-forward paced rugby spectacle, Halloween party on steroids, international celebration of the world’s best athletes)

-Would people buy their tickets early or wait to see if this event is the real deal?

-Would people understand how to get the most out of their experience?

So we hopped to the whiteboard, dug into research and built a plan.

Thousands of hours in the making, the brand came to life and the strategies rolled out, and we watched, analyzed adapted and adjusted.

TTG Partnerships hit the market with sponsorship sales, educating, stoking the fire and seeking to uncover those ‘perfect fits’ to help build the fan experience and bring the vision to life.

There were no mystical whispers from the cornfields, but the old adage prevailed: if you build it, [they] will come. None of us could have expected the sheer size of the rugby community – or their influence, but they came out in droves and brought their friends. As momentum grew, rugby newbies joined the bandwagon too, and the inaugural men’s tournament sold out of suites within 48 hours, sold over 60,000 tickets for a complete sell out of BC Place’s lower bowl nearly 3 weeks in advance of the event, and set a record for the most highly attended rugby event hosted on Canadian soil.

In 2017 for year two, we upped the ante – selling out both days for another record 76,112 fans in BC Place Stadium over two days (30% growth over year one), record setting food and beverage sales (29% growth over year one) with fantastic fan and athlete reviews still pouring in.

I could add what would sound like hyperbolic descriptions of how loud the stadium was, how many consecutive hours people sat at the edge of their seats cheering and riding the wave of energy, or how many epic group costumes there were (rugby fans are creative!) – but you simply have to see it for yourself to believe it.

So why does all this matter? And why should brands and fans take notice?

Simply stated, it has been a long time since Canada has added a veritable landmark on its annual entertainment calendar, particularly in the west. This event has the potential to become Vancouver’s TIFF, Stampede or what once was the Indy. Brands seeking a jewel in their crown to connect with the western region, now have an opportunity to build a legacy in an environment that fosters that elusive consumer euphoria we all seek.

All credit is due to the visionaries at Rugby Canada for recognizing and seizing the opportunity. For encircling themselves with experts responsible for the likes of Vancouver 2010, pro sport franchises, Grey Cup Festivals, major digital start-ups, and multidisciplinary creative houses. And for strategically placing the event in Vancouver in March – where the hunger for sport and celebration at the end of a long, dreary winter of #raincity puddle jumping is at a feverish high. And then there’s the little engine that could, although the Canada Sevens team of staff may be relatively small in size, they are incredibly mighty, building a world class event that has sold out in its first two years of existence, and a reputation that has exceeded all expectations, they should be proud.

Vancouverites were feening for an opportunity to get out and celebrate like they did in 2010 – an energy unleashed that the city now embraces every chance it gets (think FIFA Women’s World Cup, Grey Cup Festival, and more), leaving its “no fun city” reputation in the dust.

*This is not where the TORQUE Strategies and Canada Sevens story ends. Stay tuned for next week as the agency of record for Canada Sevens, talks about our impact on the tournament in their first two years of operations on the World Rugby Sevens Circuit.