In a time where college rugby is seeing significant growth in the US, the Battle for the Mitten is an attempt by student leaders at Michigan State and the University of Michigan rugby clubs to showcase the potential and loyal fan base collegiate rugby has. This year however, will include newcomers Ohio State and Indiana Universities to total four teams and two matchups within the battle.
Originally pitched to the Greater Lansing Sports Authority, a group focused on bringing sporting events to the Greater Lansing Area, leaders from the two programs discussed how the rivalry games they hosted in the past were always well attended and offered an exciting environment for fans. They wanted to take this environment and organize a larger scale event but were limited by the lack of resources each university provided their programs.
The Greater Lansing Sports Authority (GLSA) bought into the idea, and with their help, were able to pitch the idea to the Lansing Lugnuts, a professional minor league baseball team, and secure Cooley Law School Stadium as the venue for the inaugural Battle for the Mitten.
Michigan State President Josh Ressio is extremely excited being one of the few who began the idea of the tournament and all of the planning, marketing and producing that comes with it. He stated, “When it came time to proving that there was actually a market for a rugby event in Michigan, the two programs knew they needed to get creative and partnered with Addis Enterprises, a Lansing based marketing firm, to help build a brand for the event. Both schools agreed that just because they were club sports, it did not mean they had to act like one. This strategy paid off, as the professional branding of the event and effective use of the school’s social media reach lead to a successful inaugural event with over 2,200 people in attendance and another 1,500 people watching live.”
Proving that the market for rugby events in Michigan existed, year two of the Battle for the Mitten comes with an expansion aimed at increasing the reach to other Big10 regions. Bringing in Indiana and Ohio State not only adds another quality matchup to the event, but highlights the rich history and leadership Big10 rugby programs operate with.
Ressio continued, “The Battle for the Mitten is set up to provide college rugby clubs with an opportunity to reward their grind operating under limited university resources, and increase exposure to participating clubs student leadership efforts. We aim to positively help these clubs grow in a tough US sports market while limiting the financial burden teams face to play in large scale events. We believe the Battle for the Mitten is an effective strategy to ethically grow collegiate rugby in the US and hope that it can be used as a blueprint for other clubs across the country.”
Indiana Head Coach Justin Goonan is humbled to be involved in the bracket this year, and will be looking for tournaments like this to prosper the future of this sport. “We are grateful for the invitation to be part of this incredibly exciting event. Both matches are set to highlight some very competitive college programs in the Midwest. We look forward to playing Ohio State in what I’m sure will be an amazing atmosphere providing a memorable experience for every program and athlete.”
Goonan continues, “I believe this Battle is a step in the right direction towards making collegiate rugby both more popular for the fans and attracting more young players.”
Ohio State Captain Spencer Kreuger chimes in on the Buckeyes chances in the battle and his excitement, “We are off to a great start to the season, coming off a great win against Purdue! We are making sure to put in some extra work this week in preparation for a tough match against Indiana. We can’t wait to travel up for the Battle this Friday!”
Paul Keeler, the commissioner of the Battle, adds in his excitement to be hosting the tournament. “We are excited to work with and support our member teams to build events like Battle for the Mitten. Its a great example of the type of initiatives we are looking to create and endorse. We think this year will be a fantastic event, I know Josh Ressio and others have worked very hard and we are ecstatic to have secured a production partner in Eleven Sports to produce the event. College rugby needs and will be creating more events with our partners. Our goal is to create better student athlete experiences that engage our teams, parents, alumni, youth and more importantly the institutions our members represent. The Battle for the Mitten does that in spades.”
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