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Penn Mutual announced this week the sponsorship of Team USA standouts Madison Hughes and Kristen Thomas. The rugby-invested life insurance company has put its clout behind many rugby ventures in recent years, namely the Collegiate Rugby Championship and Varsity Cup, of which it is the title sponsor. The Pennsylvania-based company also sponsors the National Small College Rugby Organization. But the latest sponsorship is significant in its own right. 

Corporate sponshorship and endrosements play a significant role in supporting Olympic athletes, who often work for pittances from their national governing bodies or the United States Olympic Committee. Swimmer Ryan Lochte reportedly earned a total of $2.3 million from a slew of corporate sponsors at the 2012 Games. While Thomas and Hughes likely aren't millionaires from their Penn Mutual deals, the sponsorship is a step in the right direction for rugby athletes as Rio draws closer. 

Thomas and Hughes likewise aren't the first rugby players to receive sponsorship deals, as Zack Test and Carlin Isles are sponsored by Nike, and Isles also has a deal with Red Bull. 

"We're thrilled to welcome Madison and Kristen into the Penn Mutual family," said Eileen McDonnell, Penn Mutual's Chairman and CEO. "We're excited to begin working with them and proud to support them on their journey to Rio!"

As brand ambassadors, Hughes and Thomas will partner with Penn Mutual through a series of social media activities, blogs, video interviews, documentaries and personal appearances in support of Penn Mutual's sponsorship of collegiate rugby. Hughes and Thomas will not only increase awareness of rugby as an Olympic sport, but will also spotlight Penn Mutual's backing of the sport with collegiate rugby athletes across the country. Through the partnerships with Hughes and Thomas, and in line with its broader rugby-related initiatives, Penn Mutual seeks to attract rugby athletes interested in transitioning into a career as advisors or associates with the company.