I’ve never posted about sport on this blog before – but Australian football is a passion of mine and today I’ll make the rare exception. The Australian edition of GQ Magazine hit newsagencies last Wednesday adorned with the face of Ben Cousins on its cover. The Cousins story fascinates me. The 31-year-old served a 12-month suspension for bringing the Australian Football League (AFL) into disrepute for an addiction to recreational drugs. Cousins return to the AFL this year was subject to strict drug-testing requirements which saw him become the most drug-tested sports person in Australia – if not the world. Cousins reportedly undergoes urine testing up to three times per week, as well as hair sample testing up to four times per year.
Meanwhile, a TV network bidding war looms over the rights to a tell-all documentary about the fallen football star. The documentary was self-funded by Cousins at a cost of about $100,000, but TV insiders are suggesting that exclusive Australian screening rights could now be worth up to $1 million. More important than the financial return, however, is the documentary’s ability to effectively re-brand a once disgraced Ben Cousins.
Much of modern brand marketing is predicated on the need to create personality and values for inanimate objects. The difficulty for Cousins and his agent, Ricky Nixon, is that the ‘thing’ they are branding is a personality (and an addictive one at that).
Naturally, when discussing the business of global celebrity branding and sport, you cannot not mention David Beckham. Beckham’s global appeal has bridged the gap between fashion and football with an iconic sense of style. He is every agents wet dream. He is Mr Clean.
Cousins, on the other hand, is an anti-Beckham. Where Beckham has a sense of style, Cousins a sense of show; Beckham has a common touch, Cousins likes the low life; Beckham has a driven personality, Cousins has an addicitive one. Both are cheeky and passionate about their sport, but whereas Beckham is comfortable with his celebrity status, Cousins seems to have been bruised by his notoriety fame.
Successful celebrity sports brands (like Jordan, Beckham or Woods) seem to have one unifying attribute: dedication. Hard work and a commitment to overcoming all odds is what engenders mass appeal. No one can doubt the dedication of Ben Cousins: the former Brownlow medalist has electrifying skill and pace on a footy field – it’s his off field antics that have been his curse. A self-confessed addict, Cousins has had to harness all the dedication he could muster in order to re-brand himself in the eyes of the broader Australian public.
Thankfully, Australian’s love an underdog. And it seems that this is something Cousins understands explicitly. For an indication of the type of narrative that will be employed to re-brand Cousins in his tell-all doco, look no further than his comments at last year’s Grand Final lunch at Crown casino:
It has only been over the last 18 months to two years that, through my misdemeanors or indiscretions, I have learnt the reasons about why I am the way I am.
Through that I have started to learn how to manage life and commit to overcome addiction.
I have an addictive personality. It’s that addictive personality that has allowed me to hyper-focus on football.
With that came the extremity of the way I balanced that out and that’s what got me into the predicament that I’m in now.
It has taken away my livelihood and given me a hell of a lot of pressure, pain and strain on my family and the people who are close to me.
The odds may be against him – but you can’t keep a good man down.