When the Brumbies burst onto the Canberra sporting landscape in 1996, they could seemingly do no wrong.
They played an exciting, uninhibited brand of rugby. Gradually the crowds built, and within five years, they had become the hottest ticket in town.
They won their first title in 2001 and things were going along swimmingly.
By 2004, even though they won a second title that year, fans had started to turn on the team for a number of reasons, including coach David Nucifora being sacked after player power forced him out.
It was also the year club management decided to take ‘ACT’ out of the Brumbies’ name.
The argument for this action at the time was that the team – and the brand – had expanded beyond the ACT’s borders. But it also meant that a whole community was, overnight, disenfranchised.
Supporters, who had been with the team since birth, were justifiably outraged.
There was a sense within the community that the umbilical cord between the supporters and the team no longer existed.
There was a perception that the Brumbies had outgrown Canberra and had set their sights on greater conquests.
Effectively, in the minds of many, they had left Canberra behind.
It wasn’t the only issue that resulted in fans turning their backs on the team.
There was the sudden ticket price hike with comparisons to prices in Sydney being the justification.
There was also the relocation of many season ticket-holder seats, again without consultation.
The relationship with the Canberra rugby community was fractured when promised funding wasn’t forthcoming.
It resulted in the rugby community turning their back on the team.
To their credit, the Brumbies have worked hard to re-engage the community. The listening process included a 2019 survey of fans.
Reinstalling the ACT in the Brumbies, symbolically, is an important concession to the Canberra community.
There is still a way to go to entice those who turned their back on the team to return as fully-fledged supporters, but it’s a vital step forward.