You can tell a lot about a sporting club from the way it markets itself for new members. Take the Magpies of the AFL, Collingwood Football Club, 120 years old this year.
It brags that it’s the biggest and most famous sporting club in Australia. It’s won 15 premierships. It’s contested 43 grand finals, more than any other club. It’s also lost 26 grand finals (two draws), more than any other club.
Its club song ends embarrassingly with Oh, The Premiership’s A Cakewalk For The Good Old Collingwood. It’s said that Collingwood supporters believe the last words of Advance Australia Fair are Carn the Pies.
But all this, like pointing out its premiership droughts from 1958 to 1990 and 1990 to 2010 is nitpicking. Where Collingwood excels is rabid cradle to grave supporters, a record membership base of almost 73,000 and a financially astute club management led by Eddie McGuire that, like AC/DC, is strongly Back in (the) Black.
For 2012, it introduced a clever piece of membership marketing that draws on Collingwood’s reputation as the club other clubs love to hate. “It’s Us Against Them. Now is the time to decide. Are you with us?” the ad asks as new coach Nathan Buckley, ‘side by side’ with his players, faces the opposition hordes like William Wallace and his army in Braveheart.
Collingwood’s masterful ad has fine heritage. The voice-over is by Jack Thompson (They hate the sight of black and white that fills the battleground; and they hate our army chanting its intimidating sound).
Our Jack starred as coach Laurie Holden in the classic 1980 movie The Club, the Bruce Beresford/David Williamson homage to Collingwood and football club intrigues everywhere.
Marketing the Australian Football League’s newest team, the Greater Western Sydney Giants, has been a different kettle of fish. There is no tradition. No century of history. An untried team of teenagers based in rugby league heartland.
A confusing name: try GWS and you’ll get Melbourne insurance brokers or a Sydney recruitment company. Or worse. At least, there’s nothing to match the scores of tasteless jokes about Collingwood supporters. Yet.
The marketing saviour for this multi-million dollar AFL investment is one man. Kevin Sheedy. The former plumber, Richmond champion and Essendon super-coach over three decades, he is the voice, the face, the historian, the sage and the stuntman of this new club.
He’s brought his media smarts, his guile and tricks, his play-acting with Eddie McGuire, and above all, his deserved reputation as an innovator of the game and a leader in recruiting indigenous players, to Sydney. GWS membership is 7755. The membership drive features coach Sheedy as much as his largely unknown players.
Sure, the billboards feature rugby league import Israel Folau but, in Western Sydney, he’s hardly a giant alongside Nathan Hindmarsh.
It’s been Kevin Sheedy on the front cover of glossy mags, Sheedy in front of the 80-year-old Harbour Bridge, Sheedy the newspaper columnist and TV guest. And it will be Sheedy who commands the headlines until tomorrow night when they play the club song, described by one wag as backing music for a dancing Boris Yeltsin.
That’s when the youngsters of GWS hit the turf at Sydney Olympic Park against the ‘Moneyball’ team of the AFL, the mighty Sydney Swans*, with the AFL hoping for a crowd of 40,000. That’s when the nation’s top draft picks play their historic first game and maybe then the GWS marketing can move from the coach to the players’ achievements.
*The writer is a Swans member.