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By Mitchell Collier, Media and Communications Consultant

Whatever your politics, Peter Beattie was unquestionably one of the most skilled media operators in recent Australian political history.

A confessed ‘media tart’ who always seemed to come out of a media crisis looking shinier than when he went in.

In his new career as head of the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC), Beattie has demonstrated repeatedly that he has lost none of his touch.

A masterclass in creating a diversion

Earlier this year, The SAS Group posted on this blog how Beattie was creating an old-fashioned diversion to distract from some unwanted headlines. A quick recap – the NRL was plagued by several sex scandals on the eve of the resumption of the NRL season, overshadowing a period where all the headlines should be about how good it is to have the footy back.

Then, out of nowhere, numerous sports journalists were briefed on a supposed plan to revamp the NRL finals format. It wasn’t enough to make the seedy scandals disappear completely, but it certainly focused the attention of the media and the public onto something else, minimising the damage.

Some four months later, not a single word on reforming the NRL finals has been mentioned anywhere since the initial story. Nor was it ever going to be. Some of the most respected and experienced sporting journalists in the country, took the Beattie-bait hook, line and sinker.

The latest diversion

The 2020 NRL Grand Final will not take place at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium due to a large-scale redevelopment, meaning an alternative venue for rugby league’s biggest day needs to be found. On Thursday, news began to break that this had been awarded to Sydney’s iconic SCG.

This has sparked outrage in Queensland. Footy fans in the Sunshine State have taken to social media to voice their anger, former Queensland league greats have panned the decision, and today the Courier Mail splashed on its front page the headline ‘Heat’s on Pete over final insult’.

But like any wily old Rugby League Coach, the former Queensland Premier has reached for his tried and trusted playbook at a crunch moment. The Sports section of The Courier Mail is also leading with a story that the ARL Commissioner has ‘ramped up plans to expand the NRL to 17 teams and include a second Brisbane team’.

To be fair, the notion of a second Brisbane NRL team is nothing new. For years it has been floated by the NRL and it would appear that Beattie has held preliminary discussions with broadcasters over a 17-team comp and how that would impact the 2023 TV rights deal.

Having said that, the timing of this media drop is convenient. Rather than venting about Brisbane missing out on the NRL Grand Final, many footy fans in Queensland will now spend this weekend debating whether it should be Redcliffe, Ipswich or the new consortium known as the ‘Brisbane Bombers’ that forms the second Brisbane NRL team.

In any event, you can bet your bottom dollar that you won’t hear anything formal from the NRL on this matter until the next blue moon…or when there’s another headline that needs hosing down.

If you need advice on your media strategy and you can’t afford Peter Beattie, contact The SAS Group.

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