Sports Marketing: Achilles Heel of African Sport


Recent reports that the world-renowned sports goods manufacturer and supplier, Nike, has concluded a new mega deal with the United States of America Track and Field (USATF) worth US$500 million over 23 years are indeed mouth-watering to any lover of sport. The mega deal brings a lot of stability to the USATF and shows that the relationship between the two partners is very strong.

The deal, which kicks into effect into 2017 and lasts until 2040, basically retains Nike as the exclusive sponsor and supplier of products to USATF at all major competitions as well as official supplier of footwear, apparel and other retail products. Of course, it is a big American multinational company sponsoring an American sports organisation. Charity begins at home!

Why is this of interest to Southern African or African sport in general? It shows that African sport still has a lot of catching up to do in terms of sport development, which involves sports marketing. Money makes the world go round, they say. Of course,  our economies are still very small to facilitate the mega-bucks deals that require our fund-raising and marketing teams to be running around with calculators as well as  qualified accountants and attorneys to help seal such partnerships and arrangements.

However, this should not cause the sports leaders to think small thereby stunting the growth of sport on the continent and particularly our beloved Southern African region. Of course, we do have the branches or subsidiaries of the Nike Company based in South Africa and the big questions are: Do the sports leaders of Southern Africa know the leaders of the Nike branches or subsidiary companies? Have these Nike representatives ever been invited to Southern African Regional Championships at both the junior or senior levels? These are important questions in terms of networking and marketing. You cannot sponsor somebody whom you do know personally or the activities they are engaged in.

Obviously, Nike is not the only sports goods manufacturer and supplier in the world. There are other brands such as Puma, adidas, Mizuno and many others. However, more importantly, in terms of sports marketing, it is the duty of sports leaders in the region to know these people. On the other hand, corporate social responsibility also requires that businesses should invest some of their profits in communities and nations in which they operate. Again, in most countries there is no legislation to this effect. It all depends on the win-win sponsorship arrangements and partnerships that sports organisations and companies enter into.

Furthermore, it is not only sports goods manufacturers and suppliers that need to be targeted.  Mobile telephone operators and financial institutions  in Africa are also making a killing in terms of profits judging by the cut-throat competition that now exists all over the continent and especially in Southern Africa. However, it is very difficult to judge if there have been any positive spin-offs for sport development as regional sports confederations and their respective affiliates, the national sports associations and federations continue to suffer from chronic shortage of resources.

We have to admit that commercialisation of sport is still in its embryonic stages. It requires greater innovation especially on the part of the sport leaders to take the bull by the horns and move their organisations forward. Sports leaders must take responsibility for keeping their organisations stuck in the old school mentality where almost everything is done haphazardly with very little planning and co-ordination.  Some sports leaders always blame the voluntary nature of their engagement but it is also becoming increasingly evident that volunteers in other parts of the world, in both developed and developing countries are achieving much more. They are moving mountains! Their secret, in short is, sports marketing!

While sports leaders in our region are, most of the time, begging, cap in hand, for hand-outs and small change, their counterparts are negotiating mega deals because they have realised that they have marketable products in terms of their various events, development programmes, tournaments and league competitions. These   products are being packaged in such a way that sponsors are falling over each to get exclusive rights and visibility by associating with them.

Obviously, there is need for capacity development for sports leaders. There is need for more sports leadership, marketing and sponsorship conferences, seminars and workshops to train and provide extensive knowledge to sports leaders to help them transform their respective organisations. Nowadays, it should not just be a question of gathering people for general assembly meetings and congresses for business as usual on the agendas. Sports organisations must take advantage of these routine gatherings to make them as thought-provoking as possible by inviting other independent professionals not only to deliver presentations but to provide a consultancy services. Of course, some might want to be paid but in some cases some might want to do it for free. It is just that they have never been asked. Some professionals do it for the love of sport and being acknowledged as well as respected for the contributions they have made. However, in most cases, sports leaders are too busy fighting for election or re-election to positions which they do not fully utilise for the development of that sport.

Given the occasionally petty and devious nature of sports politics, some leaders are too busy fighting for turf and influence. They have no time to think of strategies of transforming their respective organisations. It is becoming increasingly evident that the little attention that has been paid to sports marketing all over the continent is coming back to haunt sport organisations. Nowadays, governments are coming under increasing pressure to reduce public expenditure or channel investments to critical infrastructure needs and energy development. There are very few resources being committed to social or sport development and it is very difficult to blame governments for this. It means that sports organisations must continuously find out other methods of survival and sustainability.

Our competitors in sport at the various professional leagues, world championships, Commonwealth and Olympic Games are increasingly becoming sophisticated in terms of utilisation of sports science and medicine as well as providing lucrative incentives for performance improvement. African sports leaders must also navigate in their economies to establish   themselves in positions of advantage within the limited resources available. It is also actually becoming more of how we can continuously improve our systems in the conditions that we find ourselves in rather than look at what our competitors are doing. 

Yes, our sports leaders can learn a lot from their counterparts elsewhere but what is important is how they utilise the knowledge they have gained to improve their sports systems. Setting high standards and striving to achieve them is not bad at all. However, wallowing in self-petty and continuously mourning the lack of resources cripples the imagination. It stunts organisational growth, development and transformation. Innovate or stagnate. The choice is OURS, every time! 

May 2014
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