Cary will host the USA Rugby Collegiate National Championships in May, an event that’s expected to draw thousands to WakeMed Soccer Park, officials announced Wednesday.
Hill Carrow, CEO of Sports & Properties Inc., made the announcement days before WakeMed will be home to the NCAA Women’s Soccer College Cup Championship, another national sporting event. This will be the second rugby tournament hosted in Cary.
Carrow said the three-day rugby tournament on May 27 to 29 could attract 15,000 to 20,000 people to Cary. He anticipates an economic impact of millions of dollars, comparing the 60-team rugby tournament to last year’s four-team NCAA College Cup Championship, which he said generated $4 million “just from one four-team, top-level championship.”
Rugby 7s teams from universities across the country will participate in the event, which will be broadcast on ESPN networks. Last year’s championship was held at the University of Denver in Colorado and included some North Carolina club teams, including one from East Carolina University.
Rugby 7s is a variant of the traditional rugby game, which has 15 players. Rugby 7s, with seven-player teams and shorter games, will debut as an Olympic sport at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
“(There are) less than half the players, same field, same game, so it’s way faster and higher scoring,” said Carrow, who also is CEO of the Triangle Sports Commission. “The games actually only last 20 minutes, including half-time, so it’s very exciting, very fan-friendly.”
In June, the 2015 North America Caribbean Rugby Association 7s rugby tournament was played in Cary as the regional qualification tournament for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“We did the Olympic trials ..., and they said that would be the first of others,” Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said. “To hear this announcement – that means good news.”
Because Rugby 7s just became part of the Olympics, Carrow said it is now the fastest-growing sport in the world. He said this could result in more teams participating in the future, if the event returns to Cary.
“Our goal is to do a good job in 2016,” he said.
A growing need
But the USA Rugby Collegiate National Championship will not be the only sporting event in the Triangle that weekend. Durham is also hosting the ACC Baseball Championship. The NCAA Division II Baseball Championship will kick off that weekend in Cary, and numerous youth tournaments will be held.
Carrow said there already have been struggles finding hotel rooms with double beds for the rugby players because of competing events.
While Cary’s strengths in the sports tourism industry include having premier facilities, a positive reputation and good sports connections, Carrow said the town is facing some challenges, such as maxing out field and hotel space.
The Town of Cary expanded the WakeMed Soccer Park in 2012, increasing capacity from 7,000 to 10,000 and adding more locker rooms, new score boards and luxuary suites.
If further expansions are needed, the project would require financial assistance from the hotel/motel tax money, Weinbrecht said.
“In the overall scheme of that, Cary is a donor to the hotel/motel tax,” he said. “We’ve given in more than we’ve gotten out of it. So I think we’re due ... I think it would be a good use if we continue to fill up the stands.”
But Carrow suggests the town create a strategic plan for expanded and additional facilities to ensure Cary maintains a strong standing in the sports tourism marketplace and continues to attract national sporting events to the area.
“The urgency is now,” he said.
Once a plan is in place, he said, it could take anywhere from several to 10 years or longer to implement.
“There’s a need to expand already in Cary,” he said.
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608: @KTrogdon