An awful lot has been read into Kevin Anderson’s magic carpet ride to this year’s men’s Wimbledon singles final.
The prevailing narratives among his compatriots were split between the inspiration of the late-blooming Anderson having finally come good at 32, and whether the Florida-based, Johannesburg native – married to an American and awaiting his green card – can be considered a patriot, given that he has not represented South Africa in the Davis Cup in years.
The new leadership at Tennis South Africa (TSA) headquarters in Centurion probably see it as a godsend that the Indian summer of Anderson’s career has taken him to two of the last four Grand Slam finals in the 22 months they have been in charge.
While the folks at TSA haven’t exactly been sitting on their hands, Anderson’s recent performances have coincidentally fallen in their lap as the “face” of their behind-the-scenes effort. His accomplishments have had the effect of being the final piece of the puzzle in TSA’s foundation to make tennis great again.
As TSA chief executive Richard Glover explained when Anderson made the US Open final last year: “No matter how good a job you do off the courts, and I think we’re doing some nice stuff at the moment, sport is about on-field success. There’s no doubt that there’s a direct correlation between interest in a sport, participation in a sport and success on the field. Kevin’s success can have potentially a huge galvanising effect, especially for ‘Cinderella’ sports … it’s something we need to leverage on the back of.”
While Anderson, who was joined in flying the South African flag by doubles finalist Raven Klaasen and women’s wheelchair semifinalist Kgothatso Montjane at Wimbledon, has been inspiring young and old, TSA have been conducting a quiet revolution of their own by securing a scarcely believable seven sponsorships since Glover took office on 1 October 2016.
I think federations in this country think all of their ills can be solved by bringing in sponsors and sponsored revenue.
The sponsors are KIA Motors (Davis Cup team); IT company Axnosis; Lotto Sport Italia (apparel); Vodacom (content and streaming); Growthpoint Properties (headline sponsor investing in junior tennis structures, development and club tennis); Wiphold (women’s elite performance); and BNP Paribas (coaching mentorship programme).
In a country in which even the so-called big three – football, rugby and cricket – are finding it difficult to get sponsorship, that is some doing by TSA. It’s also a touch ironic that they have managed that many.
Glover had cut his sports marketing teeth at Arsenal Football Club and was no tennis expert when he joined TSA. When he arrived he didn’t place too much of an emphasis on getting sponsors.
“Because I was exposed to a global sports marketing entity at Arsenal Football Club, I’ve always had a slightly different view about the commercialisation of sport,” he said. “I think federations in this country think all of their ills can be solved by bringing in sponsors and sponsored revenue, but the reality is it’s challenging to do that and there’s lots of other ways of bringing in revenue and it’s really understanding and unlocking those revenue streams.”
What they have done differently at tennis, though, is to entice sponsors via a combination of sound business practice and tailoring their sponsorships to as many of their challenges as possible.
“I’m not here to lecture other federations in this country but I think they could learn lessons from what we’ve done,” explained Glover. “What we’ve tried to do is focus very strongly on governance. I was pleasantly surprised when I joined TSA at how strong the governance is in that any money coming into TSA is spent properly and not on things like sending board members to Wimbledon.
“The second thing is we’ve got a very clear vision for where we want tennis to be over the next eight years and we’ve got a plan in terms of how we’re planning to get there. That’s what corporate South Africa wants to see – a vision, a plan and that plan being executed.”
Glover said the bespoke sponsorship model was intentional: “It is deliberate, we work hard to try and match the opportunities we have in tennis to the brands we target. I know it makes us sound incredibly brilliant and bright but there is an element of luck in it – we have pitched one thing and come out with something else.
“But brands are being a lot more targeted and specific about what they want. The days of merely wanting to be on the team’s shirt – what I call the scattergun approach – are almost over.”
A great example of how an obvious sponsorship pitch can have potential to yield more is the deal with Wiphold, a black women-owned multibillion-rand investment company.
“The significance of the sponsorship is that it’s very much a female-specific sponsorship and there are not many of those in South Africa,” said Glover at the time. “On another level, having [Wiphold group CEO] Louisa [Mojela] involved gives us credibility with business in South Africa, also from a transformation perspective.
“We have a long way to go in terms of transformation, this deal says we’re committed to it and we see the growth we can get from it.” Naming Mojela as the official patron for women’s tennis also means she can help TSA with fundraising and they have the opportunity to pick her business brains for strategy and tap into her vast business network.
With its aim to upskill 45 black and female coaches over the next year and try to get the male to female coach ratio to 50:50 in time, the BNP Paribas partnership sounds like just another deal until one reads The Times’ account of what it could mean for Mamelodi-based volunteer coach Lindiwe Mochoele.
The unemployed 50-year-old, who works with 45 players, is currently a self-taught coach who has made it to the basic play qualification and is looking to upgrade to the instructor level after being named as part of the first intake.
All told, TSA looks to have in place the building blocks for a renaissance to rival South Africa’s golden age of tennis in the 1960s and 1970s.