ATLANTA, Ga. – The IRB Women’s Sevens World Series is headed for Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University next weekend, Feb. 15-16.
Atlanta 7s will be the largest international sporting event in the state of Georgia since the Games of the XXVI Olympiad in Atlanta, which sold more than 8.3 million tickets in 1996. Since then, the biggest city in Georgia has hosted the National Football League’s Super Bowl XXXIV (2000), an NCAA Women’s Division I Final Four (2003), three NCAA Men’s Division I Final Fours (2002, 2007, 2013), the WWE’s Wrestlemania XXVII (2011), and two PGA Championships (2001, 2011).
Dan Corso, executive director of the Atlanta Sports Council and senior vice president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, pointed to the Olympic Games of 1996 putting Atlanta on the global map for major sporting events.
“It certainly changed the infrastructure of our region,” Corso said. “Atlanta is now a global city. Rugby is a global sport. It’s a wonderful combination and we’re excited to have both events here in our region.
“Rugby is an emerging sport for our community. We have some good history with it. We’ve got some really solid organizations that help market and grow and host the event.”
Life University, just a 15-minute drive from the Kennesaw State campus, has one of the most respected rugby programs in the country. Since the first year of rugby at the Marietta school, Life has won a Men’s Division 1A Championship (2008) and a College 7s National Championship (2011), as well as a Rugby Super League title (2000) with its club team.
Three players from the Men’s Eagles’ November Tour had gone through the Life program: Joe Cowley, currently a senior, Cameron Dolan and Phil Thiel. A women’s rugby program will begin at Life this year.
Fifth Third Bank Stadium will host its first rugby event with Atlanta 7s, but is more than prepared to welcome 11 of the world’s best women’s sevens rugby teams along with the Women’s Eagles Sevens.
“Sports communities, in regards to hosting major events, are only as good as their venues,” Corso said. “We’re very lucky here in Atlanta to have some fantastic venues, but certainly Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University is really one of our premier venues. To have rugby events in that venue this year and hopefully going forward is a great thing.”
Marty Elliott, executive director at Kennesaw State University Sports & Recreation Park and general manager at Fifth Third Bank Stadium, is prepping KSU’s world-class facility for Atlanta 7s this month and the IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Qualifier featuring the Eagles and Uruguay in March.
“I think the venue is proving itself to be an excellent multi-purpose venue,” Elliott said. “In this particular venue it’s such a great size with 8,606 seats. It allows us to have a venue that’s intimate but also able to host events of this scale without having to sell out venues like the Georgia Dome.
“That allows us to look at events like rugby and lacrosse, where they’re emerging sports people are becoming more and more interested in and give an incredible spectator experience.”
Rachel Rogers, sports sales and services manager at Cobb Travel & Tourism, has a list of three sights players, spectators and visitors to Cobb County should see during their stay in one of the five counties of the Atlanta metropolitan area.
“I would say Kennesaw Mountain because of its Civil War history,” Rogers said. “Marietta Square, which is in downtown Marietta. I would also recommend events at the Cobb Energy Center. It’s a performing arts center and they have a bevy of different events and shows there.”
Beyond the physical attractions Rogers mentioned, there is something else about the southeast visitors will enjoy.
“One of the things that makes Atlanta and the southeast unique is our southern hospitality,” Rogers said. “I would encourage all of our visitors to go into our restaurants, go out into the community and experience what that southern hospitality is for themselves.
“If you’re from any other country and you hear someone say “y’all” for the first time, there’s an excitement that comes along with that. Go into our restaurants, play in our city and take in all that it has to offer.”
Other rugby-related events surrounding Atlanta 7s include Serevi Rugby's Co-Ed USA Rugby High Performance Training Camp, a two-day camp coached by Women’s Eagles Sevens Head Coach Ric Suggitt and Assistant Coach Richie Walker. A USA Rugby Match Analysis & Developing Strategy coaching course will also be held Feb. 13-16.
An international village will be set up around the stadium featuring booths from the many countries participating in Atlanta 7s, such as Brazil, China and Russia, locales of the 2016, 2008 and 2014 Olympic Games, respectively.