SA’s first sport­ing su­per­brand

Finweek English Edition - - Advertising & Marketing -

THEY’RE NOTH­ING if not am­bi­tious. The Blue Bulls’ busi­ness ob­jec­tive is to be one of the best sports brands in the world. And any­body who saw the show of na­tional sup­port for the Bulls in the Su­per 14 rugby fi­nal would have no doubt that a big step to­wards that ob­jec­tive has been taken.

Un­ques­tion­ably it’s al­ready one of the best brands – not just sports brands – in South Africa, whether mea­sured by aware­ness or love and re­spect. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call it the Manch­ester United of South African rugby – though this would be dis­puted by the Sharks, South Africa’s other big sport­ing brand, which ar­guably has the best sup­port­ers’ base world­wide of any rugby team.

Sup­port for the Bulls is “like a re­li­gion,” says Brand Wealth founder Thomas Oosthuizen. “There’s more emo­tion in­vested in the Bulls than in any other brand in the coun­try.”

“Sports fans want one thing,” says Sean McCoy, of HKLM Brand­ing and De­sign: “Victory. De­liver that and you are the dar­ling. But fans, like other brand ad­vo­cates, can be fickle.”

Blue Bulls Com­pany CEO Barend van Graan is fully aware of this. “Loyal fans will sup­port you through thick and thin, but when the team doesn’t per­form on the field, it im­me­di­ately im­pacts on the cash gate, mer­chan­dis­ing and con­ces­sion­aires sales. It’s im­por­tant for the brand and sup­port­ers that the team wins.”

The busi­ness strat­egy has evolved from nine years ago when the Bulls were at a low ebb on the field, and team man­age­ment was looking for ways to re­ju­ve­nate the team and its sup­port base. It’s built on two plat­forms – the team and the sta­dium, Lof­tus Vers­feld.

It’s a mat­ter of pride to Van Graan that “the Bulls have been trans­formed from an Afrikaans brand to a mod­ern sports brand firmly po­si­tioned in the new South Africa”. Ev­i­dence lies in the sta­tis­ti­cal break­down. Whites now ac­count for only 38% of Blue Bulls sup­port­ers, but sta­dium at­ten­dances don’t re­flect this as many black sup­port­ers are else­where in the coun­try.

This is a chal­lenge, says Brand de Vil­liers, CEO of SAIL Group, the sports mar­ket­ing com­pany that owns a 50% stake in the Bulls. Ticket sales, sea­son tick­ets and suite rentals ac­count for 70% of to­tal in­come, which is about R100m a year. And it’s prof­itable – though no one is giv­ing away how prof­itable. Sec­ond big­gest rev­enue source is spon­sor­ship, led by the name spon­sor, Vo­da­com. (The team is known as the Vo­da­com Blue Bulls in the Absa Cur­rie Cup, and the Vo­da­com Bulls in the Su­per 14.)

Suc­cess has come from an all-round fo­cus on ex­cel­lence, com­bin­ing top play­ers, pro­fes­sional coach­ing, sci­en­tific con­di­tion­ing and train­ing pro­grammes, long-term part­ner­ships with spon­sors – and winning. The Bulls have al­ways been a force in South African rugby, but in the tougher re­gional com­pe­ti­tion its emer­gence has been more re­cent. It has come a long way since 2002, when it came 12th.

The busi­ness plan for the years ahead in­volves re-en­gi­neer­ing, re­or­gan­is­ing and re­vi­tal­is­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion on and off the field of play. “We’ve still got a long way to go,” says De Vil­liers. “We’re just beginning to work to­wards the stature of a team like Manch­ester United.”

A true Bulls sup­porter!

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