Marketing & Sponsorships

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College Rugby Raises Profile Through Skillful Social Media Marketing

1 Jun, 2016

By: Tracey Schelmetic

Rugby takes the world stage at the summer Olympics, but its profile has been growing on the U.S. college scene, mainly because of the skillful use of social media. Now one of the fastest-growing team sports in the U.S. is reaping the benefits of a low-cost, high-visibility marketing campaign.

According to the Web site Sport Techie, hundreds of schools have added rugby at what’s being referred to as the “high club” or intramural level. It’s a step down from varsity, but it still draws funds from school programs for coaching and fundraising, and has access to school sporting facilities. This is a huge change from just a few years ago.

Rugby is also becoming more of a spectator sport in the U.S. The 2016 Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championships, the season-ending title for the Olympic sport of Rugby Sevens, will be held in Talen Energy Stadium in Philadelphia and is expected to attract almost 30,000 people. It’s the highlight event for college rugby in the United States, according to Sport Techie, and it even has a major broadcast partner in NBC.

“The event has been created and grown by United World Sports with NBC as a partner, and for the second year has an unconventional title sponsor in insurance company Penn Mutual, which has used rugby as its first foray into college sports after 150 years,” according to the site.

Leanne Acton, AVP of Sponsorship Marketing for Penn Mutual, told Sport Techie that rugby’s new audience is very young and very connected to social media, which has led to a truly “Millennial” marketing campaign. 

“We’ve leveraged the granular targeting strategies that are available when advertising on social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to reach this audience,” she said. “We can target specific age groups, college affiliations, and certain interests to best reach the college audience.  Of course we are also tailoring our content to include topics, messaging, and media types like video, motion graphics, and photography that will resonate with this group.”

Acton noted that Penn Mutual’s model for social media marketing for rugby could work for other “underdog” sports, as well. By gaining buy-in from prominent rugby players and teams, the company has been able to expand its reach and its appeal. It’s also sponsoring two rugby players for the Summer Olympic Games in Rio in August.

And there's more good news for rugby. The Rugby Channel, available online and on smartphones, has allowed fans access to games. In fact, a variety of niche sports benefit from this type of marketing, according to an article in DigiDay. Streaming games online has become the method of choice for those who want to view their sports. In many cases, the sports' national governing bodies have made a conscious choice to eschew television in favor of other platforms and channels to attract fans.

Because it's certainly working for college rugby.

“This quickly spread to the entire rugby community including coaches, parents, former players and college alumni, and youth and club teams,” Acton told Sport Techie. “Now we seem to be growing beyond just a rugby interest to people interested in supporting their college sports teams.”

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