Sport Industry Column

SA can take on a leading role

2011-08-02 08:35
Nick Keller
Comment by: Nick Keller

Earlier this year, the sport industry gathered at the inaugural Virgin Active Sport Industry Awards in Johannesburg. The gathering was as vibrant and energetic as you would expect from a group of seasoned businesspeople, and what a great opportunity to celebrate some fantastic work from one of the most passionate sports markets in the world.

But, with the World Cup 2010 now over – and the last of the after-parties finally dying down – how best can the South African sport industry position itself?  Bidding for big international event provides an exciting and robust focus, but once over, as we have learnt, what remains can provide a bitter aftertaste.

Looking at markets around the world, there are many that have clear ownership – a clear definition of what they do well when it comes to sport. The UK market has always been progressive; maybe not so much in its razzmatazz but certainly in its depth, breadth and innovation. Now, with the London Olympics in 2012 and with the Premier League becoming the world’s domestic league, it is even more secure in its place as the sport business capital of the world. The USA, on the other hand, has its collection of world class leagues - NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB, whilst Switzerland is the self-proclaimed home of international sports administration.

So what can, and what does, South Africa “own” as an alternative to a large-event bidder, which can very often end up being a desperately expensive and risky process?

The last three years have seen a dramatic shift in how administrators and governments view sport. We can see how decision making at the IOC and FIFA has shifted through the 2010 World Cup and the eagerness for Jacques Rogge to receive a South African bid for 2020.  

In the States, the Obama administration has launched the “Let’s move” campaign, the first time a US government has enacted sport for social change nationwide. Tackling non-communicable disease has become a legislative priority, and sport is being used as an outlet to activation. Across the pond, the Mayor of London and UK government are looking to justify the expenditure on London 2012 through the social benefits that can come from sport – reduced crime, social cohesion and improvements in health. 

Looking away from governments and towards the private sector, there is also a growing trend in developing and supporting sports as a tool for social change – only here it is seen as a necessary and vital part of their sponsorship. These invariably require either government support or a strong NGO relationship on the ground – and, in most cases, both.

A more indicative measurer of this shift is how businesses are making huge investments in sport, not just to engage with fans, but also to uplift communities, soften their brand and “give back”.  

Here in South Africa, with the young population, many of whom are socially excluded, there can be no better way to tackle the big issues of education, crime and health than sport. The Department of Sport and Recreation South Africa and the German Development Bank have started the roll-out of the programme “Youth Development against Violence through Sport” and the commitment will only grow as the department’s recent white paper has put development at the heart of sports policy. 

Take SuperSport’s “let’s play” campaign which, in partnership with the DoE and UNICEF, embarked on violence reduction programme in 27 affected school communities – it was so successful that it received the Virgin Unite Community Programme Award.

These examples reflect a long-term shift in how sport sponsorship is being activated.   These are not necessarily CSI strategies, but part of existing media-led sponsorships that deepen the narrative of the more hard-edged return-on-investment mindset to that of businesses are so attached. This is not charity - this is part of the very fabric of the sponsorship and how it can be used to deliver on business objectives.

If this is the future of sport sponsorship, is South Africa not perfectly placed to lead in this area? It is a nation that can run a successful FIFA World Cup with a phenomenally buoyant sport industry, but is also one that is facing significant socio-economic challenges around housing, crime, poverty and other crushing social issues.

This mix offers South Africa an opportunity to take a lead in an area of sport that is very timely and relevant – one that is already hitting the sweet spot of many international brands. 

So not only is South Africa in a unique position to thrive in the place where the social sector meets the private, but it can be its loan driver – no other country is leading the way. A firm investment into this area by the South African sports industry would not just see huge social benefits within communities, but also give the country a unique and sustainable leadership role in the world of sport. 

The Beyond Sport Awards – the global awards for sport for development - always have a strong showing of winners and nominees from South African organisations that are using sport to tackle social issues in their communities – more evidence that the country is the prime leader in this space. What is needed is the intent and drive from the South African sports industry to make it its defining niche – and then to tell the rest of the world.

* The Business of Sport Column is produced in partnership with the Virgin Active Sport Industry Awards 2012. Now in their second year, the Awards have officially opened for entries; an annual opportunity for the rapidly evolving South African sports market to be recognised for its work. Click HERE for more details...or follow us on Twitter: @SportindustrySA

Nick Keller is the founder of Beyond Sport

Read more on:    fifa  |  virgin active  |  business of sport

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