Ex-Hawks CEO helps bring college Rugby Sevens event to Kennesaw State

Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University. (Contributed photo by The Aspire Group)

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Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University. (Contributed photo by The Aspire Group)

In a long and varied career as a sports executive, Bernie Mullin has worked in MLB, the NBA, the NHL and college athletics and has never lost his passion for soccer. Now he’s excited about helping bring to metro Atlanta an event in another sport close to his heart: rugby.

“I played rugby in high school in Liverpool, England,” said Mullin, 73, who moved to Atlanta from New York to become CEO of the Hawks and Thrashers in 2004. “It is a sport that stays with you for a lifetime.”

Mullin and several partners teamed up with USA Rugby, the sport’s national governing body, to bring the men’s and women’s National Collegiate Rugby Sevens Championships to Kennesaw State. The 60-team event will be held Saturday and Sunday, with some matches nationally televised live on NBC (4-6 p.m. Sunday) and CNBC (2-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday) and others shown on NBC streaming service Peacock.

Rugby Sevens is the seven-players-on-each-side version of the sport, with matches consisting of two seven-minute halves, rather than the traditional game of 15 players per side and 40-minute halves. Rugby Sevens has been played in the past two Summer Olympics.

“For those that don’t know Rugby Sevens, think of it as NFL or SEC football without all the linemen,” said Mullin, chairman of Atlanta-based sports and entertainment marketing and ticket-sales agency The Aspire Group, which he founded after leaving the Hawks and Thrashers in 2008.

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Bernie Mullin is the founder and chairman of The Aspire Group, a sports and entertainment marketing and ticket-sales agency based in Atlanta. (Aspire Group photo)

Credit: The Aspire Group

Bernie Mullin is the founder and chairman of The Aspire Group, a sports and entertainment marketing and ticket-sales agency based in Atlanta. (Aspire Group photo)

Credit: The Aspire Group

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Bernie Mullin is the founder and chairman of The Aspire Group, a sports and entertainment marketing and ticket-sales agency based in Atlanta. (Aspire Group photo)

Credit: The Aspire Group

Credit: The Aspire Group

The rugby tournament at Kennesaw State will include more than 120 matches in three divisions across two days. Games will be played at Fifth Third Bank Stadium and additional fields from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

The event will feature teams from as far away as the West Coast and as near as Cobb County’s Life University. The teams, representing 49 different colleges and universities, were chosen by USA Rugby’s Collegiate Council, Mullin said. The men’s teams play as club sports on the college level, while some women’s team play as an NCAA emerging sport, he said.

“For those that don't know Rugby Sevens, think of it as NFL or SEC football without all the linemen."

- Bernie Mullin, chairman of Atlanta-based sports and entertainment marketing and ticket-sales agency The Aspire Group

Mullin’s partners on the event are Los Angeles-based sports and live entertainment agency AEG and Atlanta real-estate executives and rugby enthusiasts David Branch and Armand Vari.

“(Branch and Vari) asked me to help them put together a rugby business because they wanted to give back to the sport,” Mullin said. “We created a company called ‘National Rugby 7s’ to develop the sport in America. We believe it is a sport that can be very much embraced by Americans because it’s very fast, high-scoring and athletic.

“It’s perfect for today’s short attention span.”

The organizers don’t see the collegiate event as a one-time deal for metro Atlanta.

“We’re hoping it will grow and will be here permanently – for the next 10 years, minimum,” Mullin said.

A festival-like atmosphere at Fifth Third Bank Stadium during the weekend will include vendor booths, a party zone and a family/kids interactive area. Players and coaches will stay in on-campus housing for the event.

Mullin said he expects attendance of 5,000 to 7,000 per day. Tickets are for sale at www.r7cc.rugby/.

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