The NRL Reprimands The Oak Panthers For Being Too Good At Marketing

When Phil Gould took over as the Penrith Panthers General Manager the first thing he did was pretty cheeky. During a Channel 9 game Gould started calling the club the “Sanyo Panthers”.

At the time Sanyo was the clubs major sponsor, and when Gould started calling them the Sanyo Panthers, he somehow managed to do it in a way that wasn’t crass marketing, it pretty much gave everyone a bit of a smile.

Fast forward to 2012 and Oak became Penriths major sponsor. On the day of the announcement #OakPanthers got a huge work out on Twitter. Hell, its pretty much the only way I reference the club at this point.

Oak was a good fit for the club. Who doesn’t like flavoured milk? Everyone’s had it! It is something that can be marketed to the entire supporter base and to every demographic. It is also a product that is perfect for promotions for the club and Oak itself, unlike other major sponsors products, you can give away Oak to kids at a coaching clinic.

It was a sponsorship deal that just worked so well on every level.

Game one of the NRL season and unfortunately, the Oak Panthers lose to the Canterbury Bulldogs. At the press conference, the Panthers had inset a fridge full of Oak products into the sponsor layout behind the players and coaches. It was a brilliant idea and who ever came up with it should get a raise.

A few days later, and the NRL stuck its head into the Panthers business. They told the Panthers they had to remove the fridge as it was too good of a marketing idea and took away from the NRL’s major sponsor in Telstra.

Just think about that for a second…

As clubs fight hard to get major sponsors, here you have a club in the Panthers who came up with a marketing idea that was so effective that everyone took notice of it. Don’t for a second think that 15 other marketing departments in the NRL, not to mention in other sports, didn’t look at that fridge full of cool, tasty, refreshing Oak products and think “What a great idea!”.

The NRL got in contact with the Panthers and told them they would have to remove the fridge, thereby giving the Panthers major sponsor less exposure and, if not hurting the Panthers bottom line right now, at the very least having a negative impact on any future sponsorship’s the club may pick up as, according to the NRL, the Panthers can gain sponsorship and market themselves and their sponsors….just not be too good at it.

What a bloody joke!

As Phil Gould pointed out in the newspaper today, the money that filters down into the Penrith Panthers from Telstra’s major naming rights sponsorship of the NRL is a tiny percentage of how much Oak pays Penrith to have their logo on the clubs jersey.

Gould even cheekily said that Telstra were more than welcome to contact the club and discuss markets options with the Panthers if they were looking for more exposure than they currently get.

At the end of the day, what right does the NRL have to dictate to a club how its runs its business? Its not like flavoured milk is in direct competition with a telecommunications company!

I can understand that at a press conference, the NRL needs to set certain standards. We can’t get to a point where players and coaches are doing interviews while say in a car or wearing sunglasses that are from a company that sponsors their club.


The Oak fridge fit into the sponsorship backdrop seamlessly. It looked great, it gave the Panthers sponsors the exposure they required to put money into the club, and at the end of the day, a similar but less spectacular effect could have been reached with a cardboard picture of the same background. It was seamless.

The NRL pays the Penrith Panthers a grant from broadcasting rights and other types of sponsorship’s. This money is not nearly enough to run a club. Hell, it is not even enough to cover the clubs salary cap payments in first grade, let alone every other grade.

The Panthers went out as a club without a major sponsor a few months ago and in a tough financial climate managed to in a substantial deal with Oak. Its a great deal for both sides.

Who ever it was at the NRL that thought the biggest issue in the game is a fridge inset into a sponsorship background should be fired. If they are part of the NRL’s marketing department they should be fired and replaced with the Panthers marketing department.

As a Panthers fan, I hope Phil Gould tell’s the NRL to go jump into the Nepean River. Our clubs is rebuilding after years of mismanagement. The changes that Gould and his new football club staff have made already have been dramatic.

The last thing we need right now is a bunch of suits at Moore Parks thinking they can dictate to us about how we service sponsors that pour millions of dollars into the club and keeping the Penrith Panthers financially viable.

If a fridge full of smooth, delicious Oak products is enough to undermine the NRL’s naming rights deal with Telstra, then it is pretty obvious that the NRL itself have a problem with servicing Telstra.

That is their problem. It is not something the Oak Panthers should be penalized for.

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