If you asked anyone, "what is the fastest growing population in the U.S. workforce today?" Hands down the vast majority would answer millennials. And they would be right. 

If you asked anyone, "what is the fastest growing team  sport in the U.S. today?" Hands down the vast majority would answer soccer.  And they would be wrong. 

With an increase of 350% since 2004, the fastest growing team sport in the nation is rugby - (you know, that oval-ball game involving scrummages, rucks, mauls and passing backwards). Considering that a decade ago, rugby in the U.S. hardly existed, the sport now has much to tout.

  • There are over 1.2M rugby participants in the U.S.
  • The World Sevens- (matches that consist of seven players per team), played in Las Vegas every year since 2004, draws over 80,000 fans and is broadcast live on NBC
  • Rugby Sevens will debut at the 2016 Olympic games this August in Rio
  • U.S. Rugby is launching its own professional league - The National Rugby Football League (NRFL) in 2017

Additionally, with the rising rates of awareness and concern for football's safety, many view rugby as a safer option. Even NFL coaches like Seattle Seahawks' Pete Carroll have famously adopted the "rugby-style" tackle as safer for the head, further exacerbating rugby's promising future.

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Growth of the sport aside, when you examine the profile of the collegiate rugby student athlete, there is a set of transferable skills that make this group particularly attractive. 

  • They are highly educated (100% more likely to have attended graduate school)
  • Rugby players are 88% more likely to earn >$150K/ per year
  • They deploy a strong team model
  • They're extremely entrepreneurial (players often have to fundraise to use facilities and hold down a job due to the lack of scholarship funding)

 

Penn Mutual, a 169-year old Life Insurance Company, recognized this fusion as a significant opportunity for their business.

"Rugby is the fastest growing team sport in the U.S. and we are one of the fastest growing life insurance companies in the U.S. so we saw that as a great synergy ", said Eileen McDonnell, Chairman & CEO, Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company. But when you look at the characters of the rugby players both as individuals and as teammates, these are the kinds of folks we knew we wanted."

As a company, Penn Mutual has not been a consumer advertiser, and never sponsored a sport.  Instead of simply conforming, they wanted to reinvent the start of the next 170 years of their history.

"We hadn't recruited on college campuses for decades, so we needed a way to be unique and cut in front of the line to get the best students for our business, said McDonnell.  We also wanted to get the type of individual who does well in our industry."

In a partnership that was created and grown by United World Sports and NBC Sports as a partner, the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship was born. This weekend, the season-ending title for the Olympic sport of Rugby Sevens, will again be seen from Talen Energy Stadium in Philadelphia before a crowd of almost 30,000 people, giving college rugby its greatest presence of the year.

Penn Mutual has resided in the Philadelphia area for the entire duration of the company's heritage, so being approached as a title-sponsor was natural.  

McDonnell describes, "Connecting with the larger business community and being part of the lives of millennials as they grow was one of our three strategic initiatives of this partnership...together with increasing our brand awareness in the millennial space, and recruiting and growing our workforce."

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Since the commencement of their partnership, over 100M people have heard of Penn Mutual, and brand awareness has grown.  They have also created internships with some of the players and even made permanent hires- hitting some of their employment benchmarks. The company's success and passion forced an extension of their original 3-year sponsorship deal to a 5-year deal, making them now the sponsor through 2019.

To commence the live coverage, NBC Sports Network is airing a one-hour special entitled, "Rugby Rising" - an in-depth depiction of the growth in Rugby in America on June 4th at 1 p.m. ET- one hour before the collegiate rugby championship. Two Olympic hopefuls will be showcased, Kristen Thomas and Madison Hughes, both of whom are supported by Penn Mutual.

Thomas represents the estimated 30% of total rugby players reported that are female.  Aligning with a sport inclusive of women was imperative in the sponsorship decision.

"Our industry from a financial advisor perspective has been unable to get past 20% of it's advisor force being woman for my entire career over 30 years, explains McDonnell.  Having access to female student athletes, allows us to present a platform that they would not have thought about for themselves."