Rugby Athletic: Powerful Partner for Glendale Rugby
The first season of professional American rugby has come to an exciting conclusion, the Glendale Raptors taking second place to the inaugural champions, the Seattle Seawolves. Major League Rugby has made itself a sporting presence in the United States that cannot be ignored, but the roots of that presence stem from the nation’s historic and ongoing establishment of amateur, divisional, and club-level rugby play. As at the professional level, relationships with enthused, dedicated sponsors are an essentially important aspect of growing the sport. Glendale’s lasting partnership with apparel provider Rugby Athletic is emblematic of how such growth can be realized.
Photo by Seth McConnell
Led by Chris Babiash, who founded the company in 2005, Rugby Athletic is a leader in wholesale rugby kit, equipment, apparel, and promotions. Asked about his day-to-day role with the company, he laughs: “That’s the great, crazy, chaotic thing about this industry! Being in marketing, promotions, and apparel – every day is different,” he said. “No two days in 20 years have been alike. That’s the exciting thing about the job. I work in my office, I help out in the warehouse, I stop by the art department – I do all of it.” Rugby Athletic operates both in-house and through subcontractors, depending on a number of variables, like level of customization or turnaround.
Long before starting Rugby Athletic, Babiash interned at parent company Minnesota Athletic while attending the University of Minnesota. Working his way from the warehouse to sales, he soon realized that demand necessitated expansion. Operating at Minnesota Athletic for several years, his rugby-specific market eventually demanded branching out, and Rugby Athletic was born. Growing every year since its inception, the Minnesota-based company offers graphic design, marketing, retail, and more, all in addition to apparel and equipment.
Babiash has plenty of first hand rugby experience, playing for some two decades, first as an All-American at the University of Minnesota and then captaining Division I Men’s team Metropolis. After retiring from active play he became its president of the club. He’s won more than half a dozen state championships coaching high school rugby. Asked about his long experience, he’s proudly reflective: “I’ve had the good fortune of having a great rugby career, and the game has become my life and my livelihood. I get to live rugby every day.”
Photo by Justin Purdy
Babiash firmly believes that being from a rugby background, and employing people with a similar enthusiasm for the sport, not only improves the authenticity of the products that Rugby Athletic creates and promotes, but also ensures that passion for the game roots his business. As he puts it: “If you love what you do and love coming to work every day, it’s not just a job. This is a business that is relationship based, and for us that means having people here with a rugby background.” Rugby Athletic encourages its employees to play, coach, and referee – making certain that their bond with the game stays strong. Babiash says the company’s mantra is to constantly support the growth and greater good of the sport.
An established partner with Glendale, Babiash says the explanation for the fruitful relationship is simple: “We want to remain involved in rugby at every level. We want to be a partner, and we’ve seen over the course of many years that the mutual benefit of true partnership is what makes this work.” He goes on to explain that rugby has been and will remain a grass roots sport, one that is dependent upon support from within its close-knit community: “At Rugby Athletic, we’ve grown by partnering with clubs like Glendale. It’s the most professionally operated rugby organization in the country.” What Babiash leaves unsaid is that a great deal of that nationally recognized professionalism stems from productive relationships with companies like his – the benefits of a passion for rugby run both ways.
Rugby is evolving. The successful inaugural season of Major League Rugby has changed the landscape for the sport, but it hasn’t changed the fact that Glendale consists of more than the professional Raptors team. Fielding divisional teams, the Women’s Premier League side, extensive youth programming, and much more set the city apart – Rugby Athletic is the official kit sponsor for all of the Glendale Merlins teams, including Men’s and Women’s Division I sides and the WPL team. Babiash says he’s excited to see pro rugby in the States, but that opportunities at the grassroots level abound: “There is so much opportunity outside of the professional side, and now in our ongoing partnership we are able to peel back the layers and see just how many Glendale teams and groups we can support.”
The stronghold of American rugby for more than a decade, since long before a professional league was on the nation’s radar, Glendale’s amateur and divisional clubs carried momentum for the sport – with Rugby Athletic alongside them. With both organizations fully dedicated to the continued growth of rugby, there’s little doubt their fruitful partnership will only continue to grow.