Against the backdrop of a spanking Brisbane spring day, and with a spring in their step, the Reds have launched their 2011 season membership drive. After last season’s heroics, there is every reason to believe the Reds can kick on and be the topped placed Australian team plus earn the guaranteed final spot on offer under the revamped Super 15 format.
The Reds have set lofty goals both on and off the field setting their sights on signing up 15,000 members for next season. A few years ago such an ambition would have been inconceivable but after the Link lead revolution, maybe it isn’t such a dream.
The new Super 15 format means extra games and this means more pressure on the playing squads, something McKenzie is confident the Reds can cover by taking a different approach to the Academy structure.
“Last year the philosophy behind the Academy was more about developing young players but this year’s academy will be more about guys who can come in and play for us tomorrow.
“We haven’t announced it yet but there a few experienced players in there that have got some good runs on the board. That means that sitting under the main squad of 31 is another half-a-dozen or so that can front for us if needed so I’m pretty happy with the squad as a whole.”
“The guys we’ve brought in, the likes of Shepardson and Wallace-Harrison, have all been there and done something so it’s a good mix.”
What the Reds were able to do was win games and play entertaining rugby, something the other Australian sides struggled with. This approach got the turnstiles spinning and brought punters, who had been burnt through years of disappointment, back to the fold.
In a very crowded Brisbane sports market the Reds exceeded the 30,000 fans three games in a row at the end of the 2010 season where 12 months prior they were battling to crack 20,000.
McKenzie is acutely aware of the need to combine both wins and entertainment.
“Winning is important but also we all learnt about entertainment. You get the right mix and the fans will come.
“This season our biggest crowds were against teams that we traditionally struggle to get decent crowds. It just shows you that you can change the dynamic if you get the package right.
“The fans showed up in droves and we’ve got to get them back and keep going. Sport is a hard business and to capture the fan base, you’ve got to create hero’s on the field and I think we’ve gone part of the way there.”
The Reds only missed the finals by 2 points last year and with finals spot on offer for the top placed team for each conference there will be far more riding on the local derbies this year.
McKenzie made no secret of his desire for the Reds to be the top placed Australian team.
“Everyone will be eyeing it off – no one will say it but they’ll be eyeing it off for sure. The thing is there is a natural reward of the finals but I think the bragging rights are also important. That’s the way we’re set up here in Australia and I think it’s good.
“The internal rival is good and with the extra games, I think that’s why the fans will come.”
The Reds have provided more players than any other Australian team to the Spring Tour squad, and with the likes of Diggers, Kev and Will Chambers making their way back from injury, maybe 15,000 members isn’t such stretch.