South Africans are renowned for their emotional investment in their favourite sports. Whether it’s soccer, rugby, hockey or swimming, the collective mood of our nation is inexplicably linked to the results of our regional and national teams.
From an over-involved junior-school soccer mom pitch side to a beer-swigging middle-aged man on his couch supporting the Springboks, South Africans are passionate supporters. Since the dawn of advertising, brands have caught onto this emotive involvement, and invested large sums of money into the branding and backing of local sporting codes.
Telecoms behemoths like MTN, Vodacom and Telkom dominate the soccer arena with sponsorships including teams like Chiefs and Pirates, and events like the Telkom Knockout and MTN 8 Tournament. Our local financial institutions prefer nurturing our up-and-coming athletes through sponsorships like the FNB Classic Clashes as well as spending the sponsorship big-bucks, like ABSA, with the Springboks, Bafana Bafana and the ABSA Currie Cup.
All in all, you’d be hard-pressed to find a South African corporate of sizeable proportions that hasn’t at one point been involved in a sporting sponsorship.
One has to then wonder what return these companies are seeing from such sponsorships, and whether or not they are connecting with their core or secondary target audiences. Greg Reis, chief executive officer of local professional services firm BSG says that he believes that sports is a valuable investment for brands. The disclaimer to his statement is that he too invests in a local triathlon series called the BSG Triseries. Along with this sponsorship comes the support of various internationally recognised triathletes including the likes of Richard Murray and Kate Roberts, both of whom competed at the 2012 London Olympics.
Reis says that it’s an element of the BSG marketing strategy that has directly impacted the perception of their business amongst their current clients, as well as future customers. “I’ve walked into many a meeting with top ranking executives and had complimentary feedback on an event they’ve either heard of, participated in or supported.”
Reis says that it’s the carry-through of the sponsorship into his business that has made the most difference. “We’ve taken the spirit of our sports sponsorship and promoted the idea of a healthy and active lifestyle amongst our staff. In fact, we’re so dedicated to the process that we invited Olympic triathlete Chris Felgate to join our staff complement to look after wellness at BSG – both internally and amongst our clients.” Felgate joined the company in 2009 and is the custodian of driving the company’s ethos of being a proactive force for positive change. Testimony to this is BSG winning the Discovery Healthy Company Index (2011 and 2012).
There are two key elements Reis says affects the success of partnerships.
“The first element is that the company needs to be true to the ‘promise’ they are communicating through the sponsorship. BSG often talks about healthy and active lifestyles as well as being a positive force for change, but if our staff and offering don’t reflect the ethos of our sponsorship, then no amount of investment will hide the cracks in our offering.”
He says the second factor is broadening the involvement from sponsoring the Series to sponsoring an Elite team to cover the full spectrum of the brand message: a platform for making a difference in the largest mass triathlon sprint series, which also acts as a welcome mat to the sport. This depicts BSG as a high performance company through the Elite sponsorship.
Matt Riley, head of strategy at Cape Town advertising agency, 140 BBDO says that there is evidence to support the success of corporate investment in South African sports, particularly in those cases where it was effectively leveraged. “If you consider the investment from the leaders in many market categories, you will find that they have supported the growth of sporting codes appealing to core pockets of their audience, and amplified their involvement to those purchasing their product or service. The essential idea is to support the broader community interest, not just “sponsor” the sporting code. Close the gap for your customers as to how your brands investment allows for greater access and better performances.”
Riley and Reis both agree that it’s the continued support and sponsorship that splits the good examples from the bad. “We identified triathlon-related sports five years back and we’ve seen substantial growth of the sport with participation in the Triseries increasing by 44%. We’re heavily invested now and we see even more potential for growth and popularity in the sport,” says Reis.