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Bolstered By USRF, Rookie Rugby Cleveland Grows Through Social Media

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Bolstered By USRF, Rookie Rugby Cleveland Grows Through Social Media

Just two of the hundreds of Rookie Rugby players.

In June of 2023 the US Rugby Foundation had the opportunity to provide Rookie Rugby Cleveland with a $5000 dollar grant to help spur the organizations growth. Through the dedication of the Rookie Rugby Cleveland staff, they've used this grant to help galvanize youth athletes through social media.

Growing the game of rugby is an old-fashioned business in many ways— with good coaching and an enjoyable experience and kids will come out—but you also have to keep an eye on the modern world, too.

So while the massive growth of Rookie Rugby Cleveland has to be due to the attraction of the game, the support of volunteers, and the ethos of sportsmanship, you can’t overlook the social media aspect.

With social media, any organization can add a little glitz to what they do. Certainly Dan Arbeznik, who oversees and runs Rookie Rugby Cleveland, understands that.

Arbeznik brought in Hanno van Vuuren to work on marketing for RRC and Karla Swanepoel to handle social media to help drive participation. Not a social media slouch himself, Arbeznik realized he needed someone else to handle it and raise the level of engagement. Using van Vuuren, who was pursuing a business degree at Notre Dame College while also coaching the rugby team, and his partner Swanepoel, made perfect sense.


Among the programs van Vuuren looked at was simply to go work with the kids where they already were. Van Vuuren used 12 Notre Dame College students, both male and female, to go out to schools and introduce rugby to kids. Dubbed them Rook-cruiters, these 12 introduced Rookie Rugby into Phys-Ed Classes in kindergarten to 2nd Grade mostly in Catholic schools around the city, reaching about 270 kids.  

They then followed up with educators, giving them access to a rugby curriculum (backed by RRC and also by a Rookie Rugby initiative from USA Youth & HS in conjunction with Major League Rugby). The educators were left with youth-size rugby balls to continue the rugby classes.

And that’s only a start. This fall they are following up and working once again with these schools to get the kids a little more familiar with rugby.

“The Rook-cruiters response was overwhelmingly positive,” said van Vuuren. “The kids absolutely loved having younger coaches working with them. The teachers took to the drills and small-sided games very well and jumped in and started coaching rugby like seasoned coaches. We had Rook-cruiters from the UK, Chile, US, and South Africa and the kids felt they were being coached by international coaches.” 

Social Media

Getting active on a regular basis on social media is a huge part of building excitement around youth rugby. As Swanepoel took over the plan she built a following, with a Facebook reach of 34,000 from January 1 through April of 2023. That was an increase of 2,200% from the year before.

On Instagram RRC doubled its reach with 17,645. Twitter (now X) saw the biggest increase, with a 4,000% increase in impressions during that time, getting to just under 50,000.

For a small, local organization these are huge numbers.

RMA Podcast: The Rookie Rugby Cleveland Phenomenon

“The social media strategy was to give a true reflection of what it is that we do each Sunday during the league,” said Swanepoel. “We focused more on video content, as it generates larger interest. We also focused on giving the parents a voice through parent testimonials.” 

In addition the RRC account shared catchup videos with highlights and also shared international highlights to make a connection between local rugby and the broader game.

Every Tuesday the accounts ran Trivia Tuesday with questions about rugby history and rugby laws.

A posting strategy was developed which was based on the seasonality of the league as well attempting to reach across various platforms. 

As the season approached they would increase their social activities from from less frequent, to more frequently with higher follower engagement. 

Using Instagram’s licensed music feature also helps build the hype, as you can see from two of the posts that received the most engagement, combining high-energy music with a well-filmed, compelling highlight.

Here's a link to two of their highest-engagement social media posts:

Driving interest in youth rugby means including the players and those supporting them. Working in youth rugby can be hugely enjoyable for everyone because the volunteers, parents, and players are all equally passionate. When you are amongst ruggers you are among friends and RRC is looking to provide that environment on the field, and using technology.