The Brisbane Firehawks NRL bid team were adamant they would not give up the ‘Firehawks’ nickname during their merger talks with the Brisbane Jets.
Firehawks bid chief Shane Richardson claims to have spent a lot of money on branding, but it seems he is unaware of how unappealing and wildly unpopular the ‘Firehawks’ nickname is with rugby league supporters.
When the Firehawks name was unveiled, it was widely mocked on social media. Nobody knew what a Firehawk was and they were compared to the Firebirds, Queensland’s netball team, which in itself caused some issues for sounding too similar.
There is no doubting the Firehawks would be a unique Australian Brand. A raptor bird known for hunting near active fires and preying on animals fleeing the flames.
But despite the cool meaning behind the Firehawks name, it remains unpopular among supporters with many calling for the Brisbane Jets to keep their name should the two rival bids agree to merge.
One of the conditions from the Australian Rugby League Commission is each bid must bring in new fans and sponsors to the game.
Although the Firehawks bid has an impressive business model, they leave a lot to be desired in regard to support and they will have their work cut out for them with selling their brand to new supporters.
The other key factors when assessing an expansion team: revenue and assets, which are the Firehawks key strengths – but also their geography. They are well entrenched in Broncos territory for which they have represented all of Brisbane metropolitan in top-flight rugby league for 33 years.
So, unless you are a devoted supporter of the Easts Tigers, the Queensland Cup side backing the Firehawks bid, the majority of Brisbane are rusted on Broncos supporters.
The Firehawks believe they can leverage on a north-south divide and are practically telling the Broncos; “you can have the northside and we will take the southside”.
They would then have to manufacture a north versus south rivalry and try to sell it to rugby league supporters in Brisbane. What about diehard Broncos supporters on the southside? Will the Firehawks try to convert them? Will that be enough to win over rugby league supporters in Brisbane who do not support the Broncos?
When you consider they are based in the inner south-east suburbs of Brisbane, how will they appeal to the large geographical footprints which the other two bids (Jets and Dolphins) represent?
The Jets and Dolphins already have a rich rugby league history in Queensland and would immediately have a large rusted on supporter base who would flock to Suncorp Stadium in the thousands.
Rugby league heartlands of Ipswich, Logan, Toowoomba, Moreton Bay, Sunshine Coast and Central Queensland – all of which are some of the fastest growing areas in Australia – will feel unrepresented at NRL level and will have no connection to the Firehawks whatsoever.
The Firehawks plan to service the huge junior base of the western corridor by investing in pathways, but those juniors would dream of playing in the NRL for the Jets, because the Jets club is based in Ipswich and represent the western corridor as their ‘home’ team.
It would be quite cynical for the Firehawks to claim the western corridor as their own and as part of their geographical footprint. It is highly doubtful rugby league supporters of the outer-regions surrounding Brisbane would buy in to the Firehawks brand.
Your columnist ran a twitter poll asking which expansion team you would like to see included in the NRL, and the Firehawks were a distant third.
If the #NRL goes ahead with expansion, which bid team would you like to see join the competition?— Adam Hayward (@Hayward_AdamK) August 24, 2021
Feature photo: Courtesy of @veggleton (Twitter)