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Promoting Major League Rugby Through Digital Art

How one rugby fan turned his passion for art into a way to spread rugby

By Tinashe Rusike

Source: MLR Fan Art

Falling in Love with Rugby & Media

I have been a lifelong rugby union fan since I was seven years old in Zimbabwe. My dad was a publisher and the Zimbabwe Rugby Union used him to produce their yearbooks. At that time, Zimbabwe was a powerful rugby nation playing first class rugby in the Currie Cup, regularly hosting Tier 1 nations, and making appearances at the 1987 and 1991 World Cup. Watching the national team gave me a first glimpse into the world of rugby media.

Since my first rugby exposure, I was always interested in rugby media and how it highlighted stars of the game. My brother had a massive poster of Jonah Lomu on his bedroom wall pictured with Lomu's historic play against England in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The poster had the headline 'Rugby Breaks The Barrier" to commemorate the sports transition to professionalism. From seeing this poster, I realized how important media is in connecting kids to sporting heroes.

Rugby Career

After growing up in Zimbabwe, I moved to the United States. Eventually, I settled in Seattle. I played rugby for many years growing up, and I had a short coaching stint for a couple of years with the Seattle Vikings in 2015 - 2016.

While coaching, I saw how difficult it was for the kids to watch any rugby without having to come to Seattles Magnusson Park to watch the Seattle Rugby Club. At that time, Major League Rugby did not exist, but there were some good affordable streaming platforms like ESPN+ that broadcasted matches. I made sure that the kids I taught knew about these resources. I even went as far as using the video game The Rugby Challenge 2 to help them learn more and have fun with rugby. 

Tinashe Rusike speaking at an event
Tinashe Rusike

However, with all my efforts, I knew that there was a better way to connect players to the sport.

Launching MLR Fan Art

I began working as a graphic designer and started to experiment with digital art. While most of my clients were only using the art for visual storytelling on their websites, I practiced my craft on rugby league stars from the National Rugby League (NRL) in Australia. I posted the art on social media and began getting inquiries from Australian fans to make them customized art. From the interest, I knew I had an idea that could resonate with rugby fans across the world.

Last year, I launched MLR Fan Art to provide art options for players and fans in the United States. Major League Rugby (MLR) is one of my favorite rugby competitions to follow every year. My hometown's franchise, the Seattle Seawolves, made it to 3 of the 4 championship matches, and the league has quickly grown. Even with this growth, I find that rugby is not doing enough with their creative product to engage young kids. Kids are the future of our sport, especially in the United States. Without them, MLR will not grow to be the established league it wants to become.

MLR Fan Art's primary goal is to use art and visual storytelling to engage all American and Canadian rugby fans with the MLR. Our secondary goal is to serve all rugby players and teams of all ages and levels that brings rugby into thousands of homes. This is done with the art up on walls, fridges, and other places as prints, stickers, and magnets.

The Tennessee Connection

Over the last couple of years my extended family has been moving to Spring Hill, Tennessee. Two cousins and an aunt have already moved there. When I came over in March for my nephew’s birthday, I was amazed by the large community that they had built in a very short amount of time.

I look forward to seeing the rugby community grow in Tennessee. One of my relatives, Takunda Rusike, helped to start Howard University’s women’s club team, and I hope that more family members get involved in the sport. One day, Tennessee will get an MLR franchise that will grow the sport even more in the state.

If you are interested in art, Tennessee rugby fans and players can get 10% off their custom piece with a special code TEN10.

More Art by MLR Fan Art

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