“We grew up all our life wearing Western Suburbs jumpers playing footy in the backyard. Arthur Summons was one of our heroes. As a player, you don’t want to play for anything other than something that stands for the game.”
Paul Kind, the NRL’s then-head of commercial and marketing, was receptive to the pitch. Convincing Telstra to forgo their naming-rights arrangement, however, was another story. Kind and his team put together a PowerPoint presentation they were to take to the telco, but decided to bounce it off Hughes first.
When Kind showed it to Hughes, he was met with an awkward pause.
“You can be honest with me ‘Heaps’, what do you think?” Kind asked.
“I think it’s a crock of shit,” Hughes replied.
The decision was made to redo the pitch and Hughes was invited to help sell it to Telstra. A week later, armed with a DVD of their vision, they strode into the offices of then-Telstra executive Mark Buckman.
They pushed the disc into the slot, turned their eyes to the 60-inch screen and waited. And waited. An executive assistant and a technician were called, but nobody could make the television at the telecommunications giant work.
“So Paul Kind and I, the marketing director and two brand managers they brought in, we sat around the table on a 12-inch laptop at the head office of Telstra,” Hughes recalled.
The pitch was a simple one. A series of 30-second promo ads. Images of the Gladiators in the mud interspersed with vision of modern players holding the trophy aloft. It was put to stirring music and Hughes’ voiceover.
“Two legends frozen forever in a famous embrace,” Hughes intoned.
“The Provan-Summons trophy. History and tradition. Respect and glory.”
And then, in a nod to his audience, he weaved in the Telstra slogan.
“The Telstra Premiership. It’s how we connect.”
The show was over and all eyes turned to Buckman.
A long pause. Buckman buckled.
“You’re gonna make me cry,” Buckman said. “We’re in.”
Provan and Summons weren’t informed of Telstra’s decision when they were invited to the Sydney Cricket Ground a few weeks later to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 grand final. The secret was revealed to them after Hughes led them out onto that very piece of turf on which they were immortalised by Sun-Herald photographer John O’Gready.
Telstra put the sport before its own brand and relinquished naming rights. From that point on, it would be known as the Provan-Summons Trophy.
“It was one of the last times they were officially brought together,” Kind recalled. “They were not aware [of the honour beforehand]. They had been lauded and celebrated a number of times, there wasn’t a lot that was new to them, so they were genuinely shocked and honoured.
“Because in sport people had become so accustomed to a sponsorship name on a trophy, having it go back to perpetuity to them, they really felt it. It was very special for them.”
Summons, who died at the age of 84 after a battle with cancer late last week, wrote to Hughes to thank him for what he had done.
“I am deeply honoured to be on the statue and now to be the name on the premiership trophy is beyond comprehension,” Summons wrote at the time. “I am eternally grateful.”
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.