‘The board was hesitant’: How risky Tina Turner move paid off for league

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Former Australian Rugby League boss Ken Arthurson recalls thinking the Tina Turner campaign was “one hell of a risk”, but is pleased he convinced a reluctant board to back one of Australia’s most successful marketing campaigns.

Turner, an eight-time Grammy winner, died at the age of 83 after battling illness. She holds a special place in the hearts of rugby league fans after starring in the wildly successful The Best and What You Get Is What You See advertising campaigns during the game’s halcyon days in the late 1980s and 1990s.

The ads were a hit with rusted-on supporters and also helped attract more female fans to rugby league, but Arthurson said there was initial scepticism about approaching the woman dubbed “The Queen of rock and roll”.

“I recall that the board of the league was reluctant and very hesitant to get involved,” Arthurson said.

“It was one hell of a risk,” Arthurson said.

“I remember [NSWRL general manager] John Quayle being adamant that she would be terrific, so it was my job to convince the board to go with it. They had some reservations about spending the money, but it turned out to be an outstanding success.

Tina Turner holds a special place in the hearts of league fans.Credit: NRL Imagery, YouTube

“What I remember about her was that she was just a lovely lady, she was so easy to get along with. She was very warm and easy to work with. We were the outstanding sporting organisation in the country at the time and she had a lot to do with it.

“I was very saddened when I heard the news this morning, I was quite taken aback by it. It is a great loss.

Ben Elias, who had a starring role in the ads alongside Tigers teammates Paul Sironen and Steve Roach, still recalls meeting Turner for the first time.

“It was at the old Metropolis nightclub in North Sydney,” Elias said. “She walked in like a rock star and left like a rock star.

‘They had some reservations about spending the money, but it turned out to be an outstanding success.’

“Us rugby league players thought we were a big deal, but we weren’t a pimple on the arse of stardom when she walked into the room. To see her in real life was just amazing. She was lovely. She came up, gave me a kiss on the cheek and I was in heaven.

“Whenever you hear those songs, you immediately think of rugby league. I only just went to Tina: The Musical and it was tremendous, it brought back a lot of memories.”

League powerbrokers wanted to make rugby league sexy and Andrew Ettingshausen was identified as the man to front the advertisement. However, the Cronulla glamour boy was unavailable for a secret shoot in London, so Gavin Miller and Cliff Lyons, who were playing with Leeds and Hull KR respectively at the time, were parachuted into the shoot.

“They wanted to use ET, but he was away on holiday at the time so they got me and Gavin Miller,” Lyons said.

“We were just in the right spot at the right time. Meeting her, I was gobsmacked, Gavin did all the talking. She was actually quietly spoken, not the way she comes across when she sings. She was really nice to work with, it’s something I won’t forget.”

The NRL is exploring ways to honour Turner during this week’s round of matches, which will likely include playing her iconic songs and commercials at the venues.

“She made a huge positive contribution to our spot,” NRL CEO Andrew Abdo told the Ben Fordham show on 2GB. “That campaign was iconic. It was a golden era for rugby league.

“She will always be remembered by our fans. This weekend we plan to celebrate this by playing her music, showing those ad campaigns from over 30 years ago.”

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