Progressively, businesses in South Africa are facing a range of economic challenges that make it difficult to operate and grow. These include a high unemployment rate, frequent power outages, unreliable infrastructure, crime and corruption, and rising cost of living. With all these challenges, how do we build resilience, maintain hope, and focus on growth?

As an optimist operating in the sports and entertainment industry, which is synonymous with bringing people together, breaking down barriers and giving hope, I believe we can change the narrative and make a difference using sponsorship over and above other marketing avenues to benefit brands and rights holders while improving the state of our nation.

Besides the numerous well-documented benefits of sponsorship i.e., increased return on investment, expanding content strategy, fostering a positive reputation, gaining competitive advantage, generating business leads, and many more, let’s explore 5 keyways that sponsorship can also assist in improving the state of our nation:

1. Economic growth

Sponsorship is accelerating as an industry and has become one of the most valuable marketing tools, unhindered by potential economic downturn. A Business Wire report indicates that the size of the global sports sponsorship market size was estimated at USD 71.89 billion in 2021, USD 77.69 billion in 2022, and is projected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 8.32% to reach USD 116.17 billion by 2027. Sponsorship in South Africa is lucrative too: according to research by BMi Sport Info, sports sponsorship locally is worth an estimated R8.5 billion annually (R6 billion direct spend and R2-2.5 billion leverage/activation spend). Sponsorship is therefore an important component of our economy.

2. Employment creation

One of the biggest challenges facing South Africa is the high unemployment rate. According to Statistics South Africa, the official unemployment rate was 32.7% in the fourth quarter of 2022. This alarming figure means that nearly a third of the population is without work. Brands can help address this issue by providing financial support for events, programmes, and initiatives that create job opportunities that may not otherwise be possible. By supporting organisations and individuals, sponsors are helping to build a better South Africa, particularly pertinent during times of economic difficulty when funding is scarce, and resources are limited.

Consider the Comrades Marathon, the world's oldest and largest long-distance running race which employs over 600 people.

Without its impressive list of significant sponsors and partners, this event would not be possible, and hundreds of people involved in ensuring its success would be affected, not to mention the greater travel, tourism, and hospitality industries that benefit from major sporting events of this nature.

3. Access to education

According to UNESCO, South Africa has the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, due in part to a lack of education and skills training. Brands and sponsors help address this issue by investing in educational initiatives that provide more opportunities for young people.

An excellent example of corporate support for education is the Engen Maths and Science School programme (EMSS) which has run for over 33 years and strives to create a learning environment that focuses on science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics. The EMSS programme provides extra tuition that goes a long way towards addressing the country’s technical and engineering skills shortages, as well as spurring economic growth and development for a sustainable and inclusive future. Through Engen’s significant contribution to this programme and nationwide footprint, it has built 10 modern science and computer labs around the country. These labs allow students to learn in modern facilities and have resulted in a thriving learning environment and a proud record of academic excellence.

South African brands are positioned to enhance the educational experience for learners and to assist in improving our youth’s skills and opportunities.

4. Empowering women

Research led by the UN Women’s Sport for Generation Equality initiative has shown that sport has the power to drive gender equality by teaching women and girls’ skills like teamwork, self-reliance, resilience, leadership, and confidence. This in turn reduces inequality between genders in many other spheres of life, encouraging female leadership in the workplace, reducing gender-based violence, South Africa has notoriously high levels of violence against women, and promoting women’s equal economic participation.

Momentum is one of the sponsors committed to this goal, encouraging individuals, potential sponsors, and institutions to join them in supporting women’s sports. Through its sponsorship, Momentum assists women on their journey to success by highlighting the gender pay gap in local sports.

Momentum’s commitment has contributed to the professional advancement of women cricketers at the highest level during the past 7 years. When this partnership began in 2013, Momentum Proteas Women had no contracted players, and by the end of the sponsorship’s first term, all 13 players had been contracted.

The call is out for brands to develop strong relationships with women players, teams, and competitions, and to begin equalizing women’s sports towards the goal of all sports receiving the same support, regardless of the gender of the players.

5. Providing hope

Sport provides an ideal platform for making friends in a healthy environment. After sitting in class all day, sporting activities allow youngsters to be active in the fresh air and blow off some steam. It also humbles as it serves as a reminder that there is always someone bigger, better, faster, and stronger. Sport encourages camaraderie, problem-solving and teamwork, and teaches the life skills essential to overcoming challenges. Every child in South Africa should be given the opportunity to take part in sports.

Without programmes such as KFC Mini-Cricket, it would be impossible to prioritise sports and self-development among disadvantaged youth. Through its sponsorship, KFC seeks to highlight the obstacles that prevent children from engaging in sports and living active lifestyles. KFC remains committed to providing children with an opportunity to play the popular game of cricket. Since its inception, 2.5 million kids have participated in the programme and it continues to be a driving force for strong national teams. The goal this year is to have more than 120,000 children in over 6,400 schools and coached by almost 12,000 volunteer coaches playing KFC Mini-Cricket.

Through the sponsorship and support of youth sports development, brands provide a critical platform for children to learn sporting basics as well as meaningful life lessons. As part of the programmes, teachers can advance their skills and school facilities are often improved. In addition, the educational lessons of commitment, participation, perseverance, and endurance are learned and applied beyond the sports field.

Albeit challenging, instead of concentrating on the negative news headlines where fearmongering abounds, let’s rather ask ourselves how we can contribute to improving our communities. Let’s be reminded that sponsorship can help address the social and economic challenges facing the nation by providing much-needed financial support for initiatives that might not otherwise be possible. Sponsorship can make a real difference in building a better South Africa for all!

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