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Volume 21 No. 18
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Sponsors buy into USA Rugby as well as 2018 tournament

The commercial arm of USA Rugby is using its role selling the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament to bolster its own domestic sponsorship portfolio.

Rugby International Marketing has secured Chicago-based Underwriters Laboratories as a global partner of the event, set for July 20-22 at San Francisco’s AT&T Park — along with a multimillion-dollar, three-and-a-half-year deal to become the back-of-the-jersey sponsor to Team USA.

Underwriters, a 120-year-old safety and compliance company now branded as UL, will join AIG and Adidas in the middle tier of USA Rugby sponsors underneath presenting partner Emirates.

Last week, RIM signed a deal with Australian wine brand Blass to sponsor both the 40-team tournament and join Team USA as a third-tier official partner through 2019.

Rugby is growing rapidly in the U.S., but the sport can still only offer potential sponsors a niche platform with little television exposure and no consistent league presence. But for the World Cup Sevens, global governing body World Rugby turns over the business side to local organizers. That gives the U.S. new opportunities, said David Sternberg, CEO of Rugby International Marketing, founded in 2015 by USA Rugby and minority investors England Rugby Football Union, CSM Sport & Entertainment and Harlequins FC.

“It’s a challenge, and we can’t rely on anybody else to deliver it, but it does give us the opportunity to package the World Cup with the longer-term opportunity with USA Rugby,” Sternberg said. “As we found in the case of UL and Blass, and some of the others, that’s been a very compelling opportunity and helped us get in the door with brands that might not have otherwise looked at us.”

UL is title sponsor of the UL International Crown, the new biennial women’s team golf event, and had used some rugby sevens events for corporate hospitality events before, said sports marketing manager Mike Galeski. But the rugby partnership is a major expansion of its efforts to familiarize modern consumers with its brand, which used to be better known for its role ensuring that household appliances are safe. It has offices in 40 countries.

Of rugby, Galeski said: “There’s a lot of international interest — it’s being played all over the world, and I feel like we’re getting in at the right time with USA Rugby, as it’s growing. Yes, it’s currently a small base but it’s growing in double digits.”

The total operating budget for the sevens tournament is about $10 million. The premier and present-level sponsorships of USA Rugby are “multimillion-dollar” deals over their lifetime, but Sternberg declined to share other financial details.

Other sponsors of the World Cup Sevens include: PrimeSport, the official ticket reseller; San Francisco Travel; and AIG, which expanded upon its USA Rugby partnership to be a global partner of the tournament.

AEG is the official licensing and merchandise partner.