Tina Turner Rugby

Tina Turner, known as the Queen of Rock, died Wednesday at the age of 83.

The accolades and tributes for Turner came from all over the world as news of her passing spread. One country that is mourning Turner’s passing, in particular, is Australia. Seven Network’s Sunrise show noted Turner’s unique connection to the continent:

That’s right. Tina Turner promoted the New South Wales Rugby League from 1989 through 1995.

First using the song, “What You Get Is What You See,” Turner promoted the sport using then-stars Cliff Lyons and Steve Roach among others. While league officials were said to be nervous about using a Black American who was not associated with the sport, it became an instant hit.

Thanks to the success of the ad, the Rugby League signed Turner to a five-year contract.

How did this come about? The NRL has produced its own video on how Turner came to promote rugby. In a nutshell, Turner’s manager, Roger Davies, originally hailed from Australia and was contacted by someone from the league. Davies thought it was a good idea for Turner to build her audience beyond United States borders.

Not only did the song work, but it also brought new fans to the sport, mainly women. It’s also credited for making the NRL more inclusive. The ad campaign led to other promos using Turner’s song “The Best” which Davies felt would work for sports. The league bought the rights to the song and, for Australian footy fans, the rest is history.

The first ad using the song appeared in 1990 with Turner running with rugby stars on the beach:

Thanks to the popularity of the ads, Turner appeared at the 1993 Grand Final in Sydney to sing “The Best” live. The crowd sang along with her.

And in 1995, her last year of promoting the league, she danced on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. While that sounds dangerous, if anyone could do it and do it well, it was Tina.

In 2020, the NRL brought the campaign back hoping to tap into nostalgia and attract a new generation of fans.

The reaction Down Under to Turner’s death noted her connection to the NRL.

Turner was well-loved in Australia thanks to her NRL ad campaign, but I would be remiss in omitting another contribution to Aussie culture: The Nutbush line dance, which came from her classic song, “Nutbush City Limits.”

May Tina Turner rest in peace and our thoughts are with her family.

[Image credit NRL]

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013.

He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television.

Fang celebrates the four Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.