Wednesday, December 30, 2015


Last night, along with 4.6 million others, I watched the 2014 NRL Rugby League Grand Final.

While it's far shy of the 111 million viewers of the NFL's Superbowl, the Grand Final is our best effort to emulate the American sporting behemoth.

I always get a funny reaction in film circles when I talk about watching sports. There is either total indifference, or outright disdain.

I can understand the polarising reaction. Sports generally receive a vaunted status that can irritate many artistic types, as well as being direct competition for audience attention.

But I watched the Grand Final anyway. It was thrilling.

There is little by way of comparison for the tribalism that sport can engender. So many narratives. So many emotions.

And this Grand Final had a particularly storied air to it.

Two teams, the Rabbitohs and the Bulldogs, that had a canon of history. The Bulldogs had fought their way back to the ultimate contest after losing the 2012 Grand Final. The Rabbitohs were the reformed under-performers, now with their hint of Hollywood glamour, owned by Oscar winner Russell Crowe.

The Bulldogs were playing as the heavy underdogs, known for their gritty style. The Rabbitohs were the fairytale, having been excommunicated from the competition in the early 2000s, won their way back via the courts, and were now in a position to end their forty-three year run without premierships.

But there was something else to all of this spectacle, for me.

I grew up in Western Sydney. Some of my fondest memories were Grand Final barbecues; huge social events that brought together different families to break bread, tell stories, and then cheer on the main event. The game was important, of course, but years later I realised what made these events special was community.

We had our tribe.

One of the families in our tribe are passionate Rabbitohs supporters. The sporting team has become a common thread through the lives of everyone in their family unit, from the father and mother, down through their children, and to their grandchildren.

A year ago the patriarch of this family passed away after a long battle with cancer. There were many heartbreaks that came from such a loss, but one in particular was that he would never see the Rabbitohs become champions alongside his children and grandchildren. The 43 year wait would never be ended.

I was with this family last night as the Rabbitohs fought their way to triumph. I saw what it meant to them. I could feel the catharsis of the victory, and the sadness that their father, husband and grandfather was not there to see it.

And today, they could join the larger community of Rabbitohs fans to celebrate their heroes. Their extended tribe, all experiencing this sporting event on a very personal level.

This emotional reaction to sports baffles many people. Fundamentally, sporting competitions are just an annual repetition of similar events, after all.

And yet, sporting teams can build communities of fervent supporters; tribes of interconnected fans and audiences who feel the successes and failures of their team, over generations.


The zeitgeist. Because there were 4.6 million other people who were experiencing it simultaneously. 83,000 were live at the event.

Because fundamentally we are social animals. Even the most introverted of people still exhibit a need for community.

This is the same intrinsic human trait that brings together fans of a particular TV show, or a musician. It created the 'Beliebers'.

So, whether you are a sports fan or not, the challenge for your work is the same.

Can you build a tribe?

Or, more importantly, can you create a community around your work and make them feel something?

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