GETTING TO KNOW: Matt Ellenbogen

07 Jul 2020

The Managing Director of Johannesburg-based Playmakers joined the business as an Account Director in 2009, having previously been with the Absa sponsorship team since 2006.

Q: How did the Absa role prepare you for the role of Playmakers MD?
Absa was a great environment in which to learn and gain experience in sponsorship. I was fortunate to work on some of the biggest sponsorship platforms in Bafana Bafana, the Springboks, the Currie Cup and the Absa Cape Epic. I got to learn from some really good marketers, build a network and work for a business that believed in and backed sponsorship as a key part of their marketing mix.  

Q: As MD, what do you regard as your primary focus and areas of responsibility?
Playmakers is made up of sponsorship, content, activation and media businesses, and it’s my role to manage and grow these businesses with their leadership teams. I am ultimately responsible for the work we put out, our teams who deliver the work, and how we get the work done. My primary focus is to better understand our clients' businesses and marketing needs, so we can build great marketing solutions for them.

Q: What impact has the coronavirus pandemic had on your business?
COVID-19 has had a major impact on our business. Fortunately, we are used to working remotely, so we transitioned very quickly to working from home. Overnight we needed to re-look all our marketing plans for our clients and as quickly as possible we adjusted and built new solutions for the new reality.

Q: How has Playmakers responded and innovated?
We pushed hard into the content, media and digital space. Playmakers has a rich history in branded content and media integration, and just before the hard lockdown started we identified an opportunity for our client Absa, to use their association with football to raise awareness around the COVID-19 pandemic. We produced multiple short COVIDd-19 TVCs in partnership with renowned past and present football influencers. The campaign was further extended to Absa’s social media and digital platforms and managed to drive much-needed awareness around Absa’s early initiatives for the pandemic. We are now in the process of rolling out a similar social media Premier League content campaign for Absa's African business across eight African markets, featuring Yaya Toure and Michael Owen. We moved quickly to ensure we had full production capability during the hard lockdown and this allowed us to deliver DStv’s Premium and Compact digital and social campaigns over that period. Our adidas Runners team provided its members with challenging at home workouts, virtual community runs, yoga for recovery, and health and nutrition tips, helping the adidas Runners community to achieve their fitness goals together digitally, while practising social distancing from the comfort of their homes.

Q: Give us a sense of the conversations you’ve had with clients and sponsors of the events Playmakers is involved in?
We took a proactive approach, working with our clients and partners to reallocate and preserve project funds. All businesses are under financial pressure, so the opportunity to manage cash flow in the short-term and preserve marketing budgets for the future is key. Fortunately, our current reality is the same for everyone and many conversations have been about how we can work together to navigate the pressure in the short-term to come out the other side. It has also been a good opportunity to re-think many sponsorships and how they are activated.

Q: Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, how would you describe the state of sports sponsorship in SA?
Fragile. Sponsorship is a function of the health of corporate South Africa and we came into the pandemic in a weak macro-economic state. We were fortunate for a long time to host many of the world’s biggest sporting events, but we have struggled to win recent bids. These events create great opportunity for our local sponsorship industry, so we need to work hard to get them back. The British and Irish Lions tour next year will be the biggest event we have hosted since the FIFA World Cup in 2010 and should prove to be a massive economic driver for the country, if the travelling fans are able to tour.

Q: Once sport in general is back up and running fully, post-COVID-19, do you anticipate change, in terms of how it is run, consumed, commercialised etc?
Absolutely. Many sports businesses around the world are having to re-shape to stay afloat. In the short-term, it’s going to be tougher to find and retain sponsors, but at the same time it’s also an opportunity to re-think rights packages. COVID-19 will have highlighted the importance of digital and social rights. There is a world of new inventory to be created and commercialised. In terms of the consumption of sport, we have seen a big increase in audiences for the return of the Premier League on SuperSport, and the stadium attendances in New Zealand for the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition show that the appetite for live sport is bigger than ever.

Q: What’s your view on content and the role it plays in the commercial operations of a sports organisation?
Content is the life blood of a sports organisation - whether that is live content for broadcast or packaged content that can live all year round. Mobile phones have completely changed how we live and consume sport, and fans can now feed their passion all day long. An event like the Olympics may only last for a month every four years, but the content opportunities in the build-up to, during and between events are almost endless. Digital sports content has been evolving rapidly globally, but there is no doubt that COVID-19 will speed up the relevance and desire for it locally.

Q: Which sports organisations – either local or international - do you believe are getting it right, in terms of marketing and commercialising their product, and why?
F1 has been a doing a great job in building new audiences that will improve its marketability and future commercial prospects. F1’s Netflix series “Drive to Survive” was outstanding content and has been credited with turning non-racing fans into F1 fans. I was never a fan of motorsport, despite living in Italy in 1996 when Michael Schumacher joined Ferrari and every bar and restaurant was painted red. The first series of Drive to Survive converted me and I now follow the sport. F1 has also done a great job recently in connecting with the new generation of fans with their F1 Esports Series.

Q: Where would you like to see Playmakers in 10 years’ time?
As a leader on the African continent in sports, sponsorship and marketing solutions. A business that’s made a positive impact on the African sponsorship industry, creating opportunity for people and positioning our clients and the agency as a global thought leader in the sponsorship conversation.

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