Whatever the trajectory of the abbreviated game in America, the primary significance of the USA 7s lies in blazing international rugby's commercial path in the western hemisphere.
The tournament is the region's preeminent property, no matter one's rugby politics. Jon Prusmack's American International Media, which runs the tournament, has surpassed all others in attendance and TV arrangements, key conduits for reaching the coveted US sports consumer.
The world is not terribly interested in the USA's becoming competitive. There are sundry contenders, while some established powers fear America's bringing its athletes and technical resources to bear would irretrievably diminish their own status. But for these small- to mid-sized countries, nothing is so promising as our marketplace.
In a year that saw modest growth of 5 percent, the self-supporting Las Vegas event sold 67,000 tickets. By comparsion, a marquee 15s international in the US or Canada may sell up to 25,000, while the College Rugby Championship 7s invitational (another AIM property) garners roughly 20,000.
A BYU-Cal match, the top college drawcard, can pull in crowds of 12,000 or so. USARFU's properties, including the IRB-subsidized Junior World Trophy or the women's 7s tournament, generally clock in at half as much.
Meanwhile, AIM has built its Las Vegas Invitational into a significant property in its own right, and last week the CRC persuaded the National Small College Rugby Organization to tie up with the June event rather USARFU's fall tournament.
Turning to broadcasting, recall the USA 7s wrangled national exposure, on ABC, before the 7s gained entry to the Olympics. The CRC too has a two-day national presence. The upshot is the 7s has been driving American rugby's broadcast profile.
Kevin Roberts' USARFU has delivered no such record. While its events have progressed from the days when the USA 7s nearly bankrupt the union -- thus forcing a firesale to AIM -- since 2006 Boulder's commercial gains have primarily relied on a series of dues increases.
As players from the 1980s-90s have taken up running teams for their sons and daughters, Boulder is capitalizing on organic growth at the high school and collegiate levels and selling the member base to such service agencies as Zurich or AIG insurance.
The Emirates deal, reportedly worth $850,000 a year, is valuable but doesn't match Jack Clark's 10-year, $10 million BSkyB pact. No other sponsor pact is in this frame.
It seems evident there is an outsourcing deal to be done. Although USARFU and the USA 7s sometimes skirmish, perhaps in part because the union's leadership still includes folks who mismanaged the tournament's Los Angeles era, the duo are obviously symbiotic. Whatever the revenue splits, the general growth of American rugby will redound more to the credit of the 'national governing body', which should take the high road by calling for help.