2017 the Year that Was

21 Dec 2017

As we close the curtain on the year that was 2017, we at Sport Industry Group look back at the past year’s highlights of our dynamic industry.  On the field of play, or rather the track, 2017 was the year where the world bid farewell to the great Usain Bolt, bowing out with 8 Olympic gold medals, 11 World Championships gold medals, an Olympic and world record in the 100 meters and a world record in the 200 meters. What’s more exciting for us is the impact Usain’s career has had on our own local sprinters. 2017 also saw the #FillupPotch drive for our National Champs, an athlete driven marketing campaign to showcase the tremendous talent at our disposal.

Following the exciting performances in Potchefstroom, Athletics South Africa launched the ASA Athletix Grand Prix Series. A series which a total prize incentive of R1 365 000 will be offered to athletes who produce outstanding performances. With many believing that this is South Africa’s “golden era” of athletics thanks to the performances of athletes like; Wayde Van Niekerk, Caster Semenya, Akani Simbine, Henricho Bruintjies, Luvo Manyonga, Alyssa Conley and many more, this elite series is intended to host and attract top athletes from around the world to test their best performances in South Africa.

Athletics was not the only sport that saw commercial growth in 2017. Over the past 4 years Netball South Africa has grown its competition structure to an almost full calendar year from January to November. With annual Inter-Provincial Tournaments, Incoming and Outgoing Test Matches, National Weeks for all age groups plus participation in the World Fast Five Netball event each year. Television coverage is now well over 100 matches shown live.

With the rise of eSport and teams like Cloud9, Fnatic, Mineski and Counter Logic Gaming becoming the norm, local and international sport teams were keen to be part of the digital party. In 2017 Kaizer Chiefs participated in the inaugural Rush eSport event, which is set to become an annual showcase of everything that eSports has to offer. Kaizer Chiefs partnered with sponsors and gave gamers a chance to battle it out at the Kaizer Chiefs eSports stage.

Orlando Pirates Football Club followed suit when they announced their first venture into the eSports arena by announcing their official FIFA eSports team. Pirates choosing to first focus their eSports energies on Electronic Arts franchise FIFA and later look to move into the more popular eSports segments. Internationally eSport continued to attract attention, attracting the likes of Spanish Formula One motor-racing star Fernando Alonso who launched his own eSports team through a partnership with Swiss consumer technology brand Logitech and Spanish organisation G2 Esports.

With the eSports fan base rapidly expanding, performance management company Nielsen announced the launched of an eSports division, Nielsen Esports. This division is set to focus on competitive gaming, providing sponsorship valuation, insights, research and consulting to right-holders, media platforms and brands.

The commercial popularity of eSports lead to Coca-Cola and EA Sports announcing an ‘endorsement deal’ for Alex Hunter, a fictional virtual soccer player who is the subject of the FIFA soccer video game series. The deal, a first of its kind for the soft drink giant, will see Hunter depicted as exclusively drinking the company’s Coke Zero brand during the storyline. The character will also star in a Coca-Cola commercial in one of the scenes of the game.

Technology continued to disrupt old traditions in 2017 with companies like Twitter, Amazon, YouTube and Facebook all acquiring rights to stream major international sporting events. Twitter successfully streamed the Wimbledon Channel during the 2017 edition of the tennis grand slam, this is the news channel dedicated to the Wimbledon Championships. Facebook streamed more than a dozen matches of European soccer’s top tournament, The UEFA Champions League, in the US through a partnership with Fox Sports. Locally, OTT broadcasters like Discovery Digital, Kwése Sports and Cell C Black continued to develop and grow, while Supersport and DSTV improved their offerings, particularly when adding additional special content.

But 2017 was not all about digital, the rise of health and fitness continues to take centre stage with people of all shapes and sizes lining up at a variety of events around the country. Every week 40,000 park runners congregate to take part in their community fun runs, while we have seen a rise in alternative gyms like Fitkey, VIVA and EFC gyms to name just a few. Disruption style sports like Football 5s, Hockey 5s and Touch Rugby continue to develop amongst the public while participation in their traditional sport codes comes under pressure, particularly for adults.

Fans and consumers hold all the keys and some rightsholders have been quick to act on this. The NBA hosted the NBA Africa game in August; the NFL continues to showcase matches in Europe, while The English Premier League launched Friday evening’s games. The Big Bash League in Australia continues to push boundaries in terms of what can be considered normal for fan experiences.

2017 was not all peaches and cream; we continued to experience a roller-coaster of emotions and performance in Rugby, on and off the field. After managing to reverse previous failed transformation performance, SA Rugby managed to secure South African government’s support in providing the required financial guarantees to bring the Rugby World Cup tournament back home in 2023. This led to World Rugby announcing South Africa as the preferred candidate following a rigorous assessment of the competing bids, only for France to beat South African at the final hurdle. This is a massive hit for our industry, but at the same time question marks have been raised about the adjudication process and its structures.

Immediately after the disappointment of the failure of the bid, SA Rugby hosted the HSBC Cape Town 7s and it was an instant indication that our ability to host major sporting events should not be underestimated.

Cricket South Africa also had its “dropped-catch” moment when the 2017 preparations for the T20 Global League were halted. Following a Cricket South Africa and T20 Global League board meeting in consultation with franchise owners, the inaugural T20 Global League was postponed to November 2018. The postponement coincided with the departure of CEO Haroon Lorgat, leaving Cricket South Africa to commit to an investigation into what went wrong in the planning of the failed 2017 T20 Global League edition.

All of the above followed the Commonwealth Games Federation’s confirmation that Durban had been stripped of the right to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games. The decision was due to the South African government being unable to provide financial guarantees, as well as not meeting other commitments that were made when it won the bid nearly two years earlier. The LOC contended that the financial risks and returns simply did not match up which placed the Commonwealth Games organisation at a challenging sustainability consideration in terms of event viability for hosts.

However across the South African borders, commercial opportunities continued to present themselves for African companies and rightsholders. English soccer club Everton revealed a multi-year sponsorship agreement with gaming brand SportPesa. The new five-year partnership is the biggest deal in the Premier League club’s 140-year history, making SportPesa one of ten betting companies sponsoring teams in the English Premiership. SportPesa continued expanding its commercial might when it entered into an agreement with Spanish Football League, LaLiga, to become the official African betting partner.

Even though there were many knock-ons, dropped-catches and off-sides, 2017 was still a year of tremendous commercial growth in our industry.  The Joburg Open made history as it became the first tri-sanctioned golf tournament on South African soil, in addition to becoming the penultimate event on the Asian Tour schedule and becoming crucial in the race for the Order of Merit title.

Records are there to be broken and they continued to fall in 2017. Manchester City broke the English Premier League win streak and at the time of writing, they were chasing the European record too. Bidvest Wits Football Club won their 1st Absa Premiership title in 2017, the “students” clinched their maiden title after a 96 year wait.   

2017 was a year when commercial might were flexed, ambitions were backed and great works were celebrated, the 2017 Sport Industry Awards validated this. New Balance being crowned as Brand of the Year was an example of this. Sport Industry Group looks forward to delivering yet another insightful Sport Industry Summit as well as another electrifying Sport Industry Awards where we will share insights and celebrate excellence in our ever-changing industry.

Entries for the Sport Industry Awards are now open and more information on how to enter can be found here.

With this being the last edition of the newsletter for 2017, we wish all our readers a wonderful festive season and a very happy New Year. We will back on the 10th of January 2018 and we look forward to yet another great sporting year.