America’s queen of rock Tina Turner became the face and sound of rugby league across the late 1980s and early 1990s, but it didn’t happen the way you might think.
The NSWRL aired the slick advert at its season launch on March 13, 1989. Almost needless to say, it was a smash hit with the entire rugby league world. And according to a CNN news story by Australian-based reporter John Raedler from 1993 which Inside Sport recently dug-up from YouTube, the promo well and truly impressed those who mattered.
“Since the Tina Turner commercial started back in 1989, attendance at rugby league games has more than doubled,” Raedler relays in the video, while walking across the five-season-old Sydney Football Stadium playing surface. “Television ratings have soared, and females have embraced the game in large numbers.”
Towards the end of Tina mania, Raedler sat down with advertising executive Jim Walpole of Hertz Walpole, the league’s advertising agency. The game’s suits weren’t confident that such an ambitious mission of securing Tina’s services would ever come off, but they let Jim have a crack nonetheless.
“I said, ‘We’ve got to get Tina Turner to do this,” Walpole told CNN back in 1993. “I think everybody there thought, ‘Well, this isn’t going to happen anyway; Jim’s a bit crazy and he gets these odd ideas every now and again.’
“I thought it would work … I had no idea it would work as well as it did. I could say we rationalised all this before it happened, that we knew exactly what it would do to people’s emotions, but it just seemed to fit for some reason. There was nothing scientific about it at all. We didn’t research it … ”
The game’s officials did eventually warm to Tina’s powers as rugby league’s Pied Piper. As Middleton and Heads wrote, the head of the game during that time, Ken Arthurson, years later paid tribute to Turner’s irresistible drawing power: “She was a great and gracious lady for us, and the game will never forget her.”