Women love it and men hate it. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly the point.


Despite the idiotic antics of some of its players, the NRL is not stupid. Its new ad, featuring pop diva Jessica Mauboy, is a deliberate pitch at the hearts and minds of women.

The NRL knows it must compete with the AFL to increase both its TV audience and the number of people who attend games. The AFL has long been able to boast that women comprise a greater share of both audiences. The new NRL ad could go a long way to changing that.

There are moments in the new ad, such as the scene early on with smiling Mums watching kids playing on the lawn, when it almost looks like a margarine ad.

Other scenes, with teenage girls playing touch footy on the beach and in the school playground, are reminiscent of ads for pimple cream.

The overall message is clear. Rugby league is a game for everyone. It is not just for boofy blokes.

In the 20 years since the iconic Tina Turner “Simply The Best” campaign, the annual rugby league ad has been a blokefest set to music for blokes.

Last year’s ad featured Bon Jovi’s rock anthem “This Is Our House”. It rammed home the message that men have their own turf which is not to be messed with. It couldn’t have been less inclusive of women if it included a scene at the urinals.

Other overtly blokey rugby league anthems included the drinking song “Tubthumping” in the 1998 season, and Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are Back in Town” in 1985-88.

The boys are back in town and playing footy again in 2013, but now the NRL wants women watching them too.

Mauboy’s 2013 rugby league theme song is a remake of the Etta James classic Something’s Got a Hold On me. If social media is anything to go by, it has indeed taken hold.

Women on twitter seem unanimous in their praise for it. A typical reaction was this from Kaley Purcell (‏@merlinspants), who said “Really enjoyed the 2013 #NRL ad with jessica Mauboy, best promo ad they’ve had in a while”.

Blokes were less impressed. As McFlavour (‏@McFlavour7) tweeted: “Jess Mauboy the voice of #NRL? Why do RL marketing and entertainment guys always think girly pop marries up with the word’s toughest sport?”

The answer to Mr McFlavour’s question is obvious. Because there are two ways to grow a sport.

One way is to find new geographical territory. With the AFL now marching into the rugby league heartland of western Sydney and no NRL expansion teams in the pipeline, that’s not a short term option.

That leaves demographics as the only avenue for growth. If women are attracted to the sport, it would not only boost NRL attendances today, but could bolster junior numbers in the future, as Mums are often the ones who decide what sport their sons play.

That, by the way, is why the shoulder charge was outlawed in the off season. And it’s why the latest offering from the NRL marketing department could easily be mistaken for a Colgate ad.

Comments on this post close at 8pm AEDST unless they are comments from the supercoach (points for the first to identify the obscure old rugby league reference)

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53 comments

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    • Gregg says:

      05:04am | 28/02/13

      I reckon McFlavour is somewhere more near the money for tough as League is even without a shoulder charge, it’ll always just be the nature of the games that will decide the attraction.
      Like Aussie Rules is not so soft but there is a lot more to the game and it has that Aussie term to it.

    • Mahhrat says:

      05:59am | 28/02/13

      It’s a great move, but I wonder if it’s too little, too late.

      I doubt it though, because the NRL has a trump card the AFL simply can’t touch - international honours.

    • Rose says:

      08:33am | 28/02/13

      Many of us who enjoy AFL couldn’t care less about ‘international honours’, it’s just not that important.
      And Jessica Mauboy singing in an ad is not going to make me want to watch NRL, the ad is a cross between pimple cream/margarine/ soft drink ads. So generic that it’s boring.

    • Big Jay says:

      08:54am | 28/02/13

      I think you mean State of Origin!...That’s literally the biggest game in town.

    • Markus says:

      09:32am | 28/02/13

      League is probably not the ideal sport to use the international honours argument.

      Once a year you have the honour of playing the same Kiwis you have been playing every single week.
      Provided the match doesn’t clash with something more important, like State of Origin. Or a regular NRL round match.

    • Ando says:

      09:58am | 28/02/13

      “Many of us who enjoy AFL couldn’t care less about ‘international honours’, it’s just not that important.”
      If other countries played the sport you would. I’m not suggesting rugby league internationals are the best example but the attraction of international sport is not open for debate. If AFL was a major sport in Enlgand, America or New Zealand I’m pretty sure internationals would attract a little interest.

    • JTO says:

      10:07am | 28/02/13

      I’m perfectly happy that my team’s players don’t get injured playing meaningless games to try and bolster gate takings and sell merchandise. I where a 15 year old guernsey to the games. You know what? It’s still the same apart from the AFL logo which has been updated. Once. How about that for a trump card? Continuity.

    • Hamish says:

      10:49am | 28/02/13

      NRL international honours? The only other teams are Yorkshire and Kiwi union-rejects.

    • PMP says:

      12:42pm | 28/02/13

      Not withstanding the laughability of your “international honours” argument Mahhrat, what does that have to do with attracting women to the game?

    • Mahhrat says:

      02:12pm | 28/02/13

      @PMP:  Not everyone is as against people bashing into each other as we appear to be in Australia mate.  I’m sure there are a number of countries with women far more interested than our own in watching Rugby League.

      Australians tend to take the position as the pre-eminent sport lovers of the world, and anything we don’t approve of must therefore be shit.

      We need to wake up to ourselves.  RL has the potential to reach hundreds of millions given where it’s played.  Good promotion of the code as family friendly, in a global market?  You’d get more women watching good RL games and the combined market for AFL.

    • Hamish says:

      03:06pm | 28/02/13

      Mahhrat, global? C’mon. It’s played in NSW, Qld, Yorkshire, some parts (the bad ones) of Auckland and I think there’s a ‘French’ team. Apparently it’s also really big in Papua New Guinea.

    • Levi says:

      04:24pm | 28/02/13

      @Hamish, so it’s more widely played and followed than your beloved AFL then? Oh good that’s what I thought you were trying to say. The best you guys can manage is the occasional scrap against some backwoods Irish, who don’t even play the same game with the same ball. Haha

      It’s actually the national sport of PNG, and was extremely popular in southern France until the Vichy regime banned it in the 40’s as they were not fans of the working class.

    • Dave Mc says:

      06:34pm | 28/02/13

      International being ..?! 3 countries, 2 of which barely play it!

    • james says:

      07:30am | 28/02/13

      Sigh….

      I am an Aussie rules fan with only passing interest in rl but this smells rotten.

      Would serve em right if it backfired.

    • Levi says:

      08:55am | 28/02/13

      Then don’t bother commenting. No one would really care what an aerial ping pong folloing mexican thinks anyway mate.

    • Shane* says:

      02:11pm | 28/02/13

      @Levi,

      The best bit of the ad was the end, when the Melbourne Storm held aloft the trophy that no-one down here cares about.

      Funny that, all it took was a team to develop a professional culture, train hard, recruit wisely and leave the knuckleheads to the NSW teams.

      Hell, you took 2 trophies off them and all they did was gut their team, start with the bare bones, and become Premiers again within two seasons.

      Must be something in our Mexican water.

    • Jay says:

      07:30am | 28/02/13

      Intersting that with all of the attention on the long term effects of head trauma that the NRL is appealing to women? Show me another game where the only intention is to smash as hard as possible the man running with the ball? Watch the impact in super slow motion and watch the impact on the body and the head. Then you have the tackles which strike the head and are termed unitentional by our butch macho commentators who every year at State of Origin time pray to the Gods that a good old fahsioned punch on will happen to appease their neanderthal instincts. I am sure some women will be excited by this type of game, however mothers will watch this and then look at other sports like the world game, where skill is the key and brutish behaviour is outlawed..

    • Jamie says:

      10:33am | 28/02/13

      Diving skills?? And where the brutish behaviour is left to the fans at the game..??

    • RobJ says:

      07:31am | 28/02/13

      Your comment:I’m going to go out on a limb and state that AFL players are more attractive to women.

    • Levi says:

      08:56am | 28/02/13

      No one likes a string bean mate.

    • Rose says:

      09:01am | 28/02/13

      Generally I think that’s true, but there are players from all codes seem to be working hard to ugly themselves up with an array of very large, horrible tattoos.

    • RobJ says:

      10:01am | 28/02/13

      “No one likes a string bean mate.”

      How many of them could be considered ‘string beans’?

    • Mahhrat says:

      10:39am | 28/02/13

      @RobJ - Stevie Milne, all day.  Friggin’ tip rat.

      Dustin Fletcher.  I swear to God he’s a robot with some poor bastard’s skin on it.  That’s why he never breaks down.

      The rest seem pretty fit though, I’d agree.

    • London Calling says:

      12:58pm | 28/02/13

      @Mahhrat

      ‘Dustin Fletcher.  I swear to God he’s a robot with some poor bastard’s skin on it. ’

      LOL.

      Essendon supporters gave him the nickname Inspector Gadget many, many years ago, it is most apt.

    • Sickemrex says:

      02:24pm | 28/02/13

      It depends on which limb you’re talking about, RobJ. AFL certainly has it in the arms department but league for legs and bums IMHO.

    • BC says:

      07:56am | 28/02/13

      I was at work one day and heard two men vigorously discussing the various merits of their respective teams. I thought to myself, “wow,they’re really into that”. It came as a bit of a shock as I’d always thought football (any type) was played as entertainment for little boys, not men, and certainly not women.
      I can understand people watching it if they had played it as a child, and find it titillating seeing men rolling around on top of each other in the mud, inserting fingers up each others bottoms, knowing they’re going off for a communal shower afterwards.
      What I can’t understand is the ludicrous amounts of money football players get paid. Millions of dollars/pounds/euros to chase a ball around a field?
      And then people are all up in arms when a “football hero” makes a dick of himself out in public because he is a role model. He is a role model because he gets paid millions of dollars not for any other reason. I’m all for people making a buck, but back when I was a little boy watching rugby league and collecting footy cards, the players all had jobs and it was a cool thing if one of your team was the local milko. That was the end of it. Now it’s big business. And we are just like America now. It doesn’t have to make sense, just money. It’s chasing a ball around a muddy field, that’s all. I’m going to ask around, but I don’t think I know any women who would waste their time watching football, regardless of perceived ‘female marketing stratagem’.

    • Markus says:

      09:29am | 28/02/13

      “I can understand people watching it if they had played it as a child, and find it titillating seeing men rolling around on top of each other in the mud, inserting fingers up each others bottoms, knowing they’re going off for a communal shower afterwards.”

      Might be worth checking that that old VHS you own with ‘Sport’ written on the label is not actually gay porn, as opposed to sport.
      Don’t fret too much, I’m sure plenty of people have made that mistake before.

    • RobJ says:

      09:56am | 28/02/13

      “I was a little boy watching rugby league and collecting footy cards, the players all had jobs and it was a cool thing if one of your team was the local milko. That was the end of it. Now it’s big business.”

      I disagree, for example professionalism has improved Rugby Union 9my preference) no end (IMHO).

    • RobJ says:

      08:20am | 28/02/13

      “I doubt it though, because the NRL has a trump card the AFL simply can’t touch - international honours.”

      Which is rather irrelevant to the state of the game in Australia.

    • Markus says:

      08:35am | 28/02/13

      I’ve always wondered if during this fight to attract the female market, there will come a time when one of the codes goes too far and does something that ultimately turns large parts of their real fanbase off the game altogether.

      The way both codes have pursued their endgame of making the game appeal to every demographic has progressed on the fairly arrogant assumption that existing fans, the ones who are actually interested in the sport as opposed to cheap marketing gimmicks, will continue to hand over their cash no matter what those in charge turn the game into.

    • Big Jay says:

      10:09am | 28/02/13

      @Markus - I share your POV. It is this constant requirement for “growth” from sport bugs me, for a listed company I understand it, but for a sport, not so much. The chase for growth by and large is detracting, bit by bit, from the existing fanbase, the (legitimate) shoulder charge illustrates this point.

      I guess people that like the old-fashioned, brutal sports can watch UFC. smile

    • ramases says:

      10:01am | 28/02/13

      Its all very well to have some Pop Diva? singing but the real problem is the way people perceive sport now that the Drugs in Sport has hit the headlines and the continual problems players keep getting themselves into.
        Its not now how good a team is but who has the better drugs that is on people’s minds and no amount of protestations of innocence will change that view that the games are tainted once and for all. When i hear the team coaches and managers coming out to support their players it always reminds me of the line “Me thinks perhaps he protests too much”
        Years ago I told my lovely wife that the teams with the better drugs would win and it seems that my fears have been bought to fruition. I used to be a huge fan of the NRL but now would rather watch"reality” shows such is my desperation at seeing an end to this saga.

    • BMJ says:

      10:41am | 28/02/13

      Pa-pa-paranoia….

      All the egg ball codes are stupid.

    • NSS says:

      10:50am | 28/02/13

      Ant, dear, sweetie, lovey. Women are far too intelligent to give a rats about NRL. You see, most of us can count past six.

      Have a nice day. smile

    • Um What? says:

      12:26pm | 28/02/13

      “Ant, dear, sweetie, lovey. Women are far too intelligent to give a rats about NRL. You see, most of us can count past six.

      Have a nice day. smile”

      When was this tart appointed spokesperson for women everywhere?

    • NSS says:

      01:59pm | 28/02/13

      Oow, such a vehement reaction.  I suggest you grow a sense of humour, it makes life much happier.

      You have a nice day too. smile

    • Mahhrat says:

      02:26pm | 28/02/13

      @Um What: I’m starting to think we’re dealing with a reverse-troll, who is trying to discredit feminism by being so deliberately offensive while trying to portray one.

      While I’m sure such obviously poor examples of actual feminists exist, I’d suggest most of them aren’t as literate as NSS.  I think we’re dealing with an anti-feminist double-blind.

    • NSS says:

      03:23pm | 28/02/13

      Oh Mahrat, way to over-analyse, buddy! haha!  Thanks for the back-handed compliment, by the way. *eye roll* I am definitely a feminist (although not rabid). Some of us are quite moderate.

      Sheesh, the joke was about NRL. You know, tackle six times, kick once. repeat ad nauseum? I prefer Aussie Rules or when up North, Rugby Union.

    • ibast says:

      11:07am | 28/02/13

      There are plenty of women that follow league.  Of course they have to take turn sharing the tooth, but there are plenty of them.

    • Colin says:

      11:54am | 28/02/13

      “If women are attracted to the sport, it would not only boost NRL attendances today…”

      Yes, maybe, but who is going to pay for all those frontal lobotomies, and how many women would volunteer for them in the first place..?

    • Tubesteak says:

      12:24pm | 28/02/13

      Giving women frontal lobotomies would increase their intelligence bcause it means they’ll talk less.

    • ibast says:

      12:41pm | 28/02/13

      Maybe they can offer some free alco-pops to women attending the game.  That would take the total game attendance from 2000 to 2050.

    • NSS says:

      01:03pm | 28/02/13

      Oow, there’s an idea, Tubey. It would work on male chauvinists too!

    • Markus says:

      02:13pm | 28/02/13

      @ibast, charging $8-12 per alcopop is where stadiums make the bulk of their money these days. There’s no way they will start giving them out for free.

    • Surely says:

      02:15pm | 28/02/13

      NSS,
      Your no better than a Male chauvinist\

    • Colin says:

      02:43pm | 28/02/13

      @  Tubesteak

      “Giving women frontal lobotomies would increase their intelligence bcause it means they’ll talk less…”

      Riiiight. So tell me, Tubesteak, did you come less verbose after yours..?

    • Noa says:

      12:05pm | 28/02/13

      I like the fact that they use Jessica Mauboy who is half indonesian half indigenous. But she looks islander. This is a great idea as the racial make up of players in the NRL is more and more for polynesian/ islanders heritage. Estimates are that by 2020 60%-70% will have some back racial back ground from these areas. Take a look at the youth teams Parramatta almost have 80%.

      This great news for the NRL showing both real cultural diversity and for sight.

    • Alicia says:

      01:45pm | 28/02/13

      “Last year’s ad featured Bon Jovi’s rock anthem “This Is Our House”. It rammed home the message that men have their own turf which is not to be messed with.”

      That’s not at all what I took from the song. I took the “our house” to be inclusive of players and fans (men and women). Perhaps I don’t analyse the intentions of songs enough. I liked it, and preferred it.

    • Markus says:

      02:44pm | 28/02/13

      I thought that was a strange conclusion to come to as well.

      I don’t even follow the NRL that closely, but it was pretty obvious that in that campaign the “Our” was referring to the NRL family of players and fans.

      Even as I write this my memory is going back to an article I am sure I read on this very site that saw it the exact same way - the term ‘circling the wagons’ may have even been used - and then concluded that such a campaign is too focused on existing fanbase and would stunt growth of the game.

    • Proud thinking Australian says:

      01:46pm | 28/02/13

      At the risk of losing all credibility I would say “Tina’s Simply the Best” hasn’t been topped for overall appeal since benched from Promo duty (its had the longest run that’s for sure).

      I wish our new home girl talent all the best.  It will do her music exposure a world of good. Promotion of Oz Music and film talent is a win for Australia.  Keep our culture alive (the good part’s that is).

      Let’s hope the players can do better off field and keep out of the headlines for all the wrong reasons.  Go Parra for 2013! 
      Please NRL drop booze and gaming promotion - don’t add petrol to the fire.

    • do they kick the ball in league says:

      03:05pm | 28/02/13

      Anthony, good analysis, but I think you missed one key point. The ad to me other than showing lots of females, also showed lots of kicking. For a game where only one player in a team knows how to kick, this is a hell of a lot of kicking.

      They neglected to show all the “big hits” as they do in previous ads- again an appeal to women. The game though isn’t as fast, athletic or as skilful as Australian rules (all players need to know how to kick for example), so it is difficult to market what it aint.. ..but good luck to them, I am sure they will fool a few punters with this ad.

    • Levi says:

      04:27pm | 28/02/13

      “The game though isn’t as fast, athletic or as skilful as Australian rules”

      Pfft keep telling yourself until you’ve played it mate. You’ll be finished in 5 minutes.

      I don’t see how running around in a paddock playing force and backs and constantly shoving and blindsiding each other counts as either skill or athleticism.

    • London Calling says:

      06:20pm | 28/02/13

      @Levi

      ‘Pfft keep telling yourself until you’ve played it mate. You’ll be finished in 5 minutes.’

      Here I was thinking that this post was about ‘watching’ the NRL. Hence the ad, to get a bigger TV audience and people, especially women, to go and watch the game.

 

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