Opinion: The marketing of the NRL – simply the best

The NRL has launched its new season with a new video which features a spectacular re-working of the Tina Turner classic  Simply the best. It got me thinking how much better the NRL does at promoting their game than Super Rugby.

In the video, the nostalgia of grand final yesteryear blends nicely with a modern take on the game, while nodding its head to indigenous culture and their peoples contribution to the game.

The video isn’t without its detractors, however. Comments have arisen in the Australian media from disgruntled country folk who don’t feel the ad includes them and focuses too much on the glitz and glamour of the Sydney clubs.

I couldn’t actually remember if Super Rugby had put out a promo video for this year’s competition but after a cursory look on YouTube, I came across a bland, awkward video of players interviewing their peers (for the NZ version) bereft of any hype or throwbacks, essential to induce misty-eyed sentiment in the rugby public.

Super Rugby crowds were down six percent for the 2019 season. Current numbers are hard to come by, perhaps closely guarded by club marketing people. You only have to turn on a game to witness empty stadiums across NZ, including in the traditional rugby strongholds of Christchurch and Wellington.

Adding to this is an unpopular conference system, boring scrum re-sets, hysteria over ‘high’ tackles and the ridiculous implementation of ‘All Blacks minutes’ to players within or on the periphery (ex-St Kents players Brayden Ennor, Dalton Papalii, et al)  of the All Blacks, it’s fair to assume the game at the second tier is in trouble.

The increasing commercialisation of the All Blacks and the development of an ‘us versus them’ mentality when it comes to Super teams is concerning. Coaches are reported to be exasperated at the restrictions placed on star players and fans are being robbed of seeing the best up close, all to preserve the NZR’s meal ticket.

The NRL have used a re-working of a 1980s campaign featuring Tina Turner for their 2020 launch. Photo smh.com.au

Perhaps new CEO Mark Robinson can remedy the disconnect generated by his predecessor Steve Tew.

The competition also starts way too early, slap bang in the middle of the cricket season. Eden Park ground staff have the unenviable task of transforming the goofy-shaped home of sport to be rugby compliant from week to week.

The NRL, on the other hand, has a later start in March. I don’t believe Super Rugby gets the jump on it as the NZR boffins would have you believe. After doing a quick, unscientific poll, it seems people actually prefer that NRL starts six weeks later.

By then everyone seems to have had enough of rugby’s encroachment into their beach time and welcome the arrival of a game that showcases great athletes, close results and the ball being in play for more than 90 seconds at a time.

It’s not like the NRL has a monopoly either. However much they are paying their marketing people, it isn’t enough. Competing against AFL, A-League, Union, and the increasing popularity of combat sports, they have performed Jesus-level miracles to cement second spot in viewership and squeeze maximum juice from a sport with a minor international profile.