Play Sport: How To Win Over Sponsors

by | Jan 1, 2008

October, gsport launched a three-part series focusing on the benefits of
playing sport. In our first article, we considered the question of Health, with
an emphasis on nutrition and its assistance in maintaining appropriate body
weight, one benefit of regular participation in sport and physical activity.

In November
2007, our second installment addressed the beneficial impact of a physical
exercise on a woman’s lifestyle, and considered the impact of fairness in
sport, subjectively from a woman’s perspective.

This month,
in our final article of this three-part series, we speak to two player agents
about the financial aspect associated with being a female sports star, how to
secure sponsors, and how to build your personal sports brand.

Kotzin, CEO of Forwardzone, is one of
very few sports agents, who represent women sports stars. Some of the stars he
has represented include tennis star, Charne Hinds. Kotzin currently manages gsport’s
January gSTAR, Stacy Bregman, who turned pro just over a year ago.

Asked why he
chooses to represent women in sport, Kotzin said: "I just think that there are
so few women out there who are able to make it on the South African golfing
stage, and we’d like to differentiate ourselves from any other agency and we
like to back young talent, whether its male or female, it doesn’t really

His advice
to female sports stars keen to secure the services of a sports agent is simple.
"Most importantly – attitude is everything! Traditionally, we like to back
people who have the right attitude because attitude is going to give you the
edge out there.

Forwardzone CEO, Ashley Kotzin, with up-and-coming tennis player, Bankane Magakgala

"So it’s
important to have an attitude of hard work. It’s important to be able to say
thank you. It’s about never having arrogance and always being able to thank the
people who helped you right at the beginning of your career. One thing’s for
sure, the more people like you, the further you get in life. Those are some of
the key attributes I think an athlete should possess."

 But still
the burning question remains; why do your female sports stars struggle to
attract the kind of sponsorships and endorsements that their male counterparts

In order to get a better
understanding of how to become a top sports star, gsport spoke to Fiona De
Souza, who is a director at Prosport
, a sports management and recruitment company, specializing in
the professional rugby and soccer market.

They do however look
after one or two athletes in the cricket and swimming arena and offer their
clients a range of services including contract negotiations, sponsorship management,
coupled with legal, marketing, public relations and media expertise.

Although Prosport
International doesn’t represent female sports stars, De Souza, who has over a
decade’s experience in sports management, provides key information in this wide-ranging
interview, about how top sports brands are built.

Fiona, thanks for speaking to gsport. Tell us more your
involvement in this industry.

I started
this company 10 years ago. Prior to that I was involved in sponsorship and at
that stage it was Players Sport and
we looked after about 17 rugby players.

Over the
years we merged with another (soccer-focussed) company which was run by Mike
Makaab, and we look after now just under 300 rugby and soccer athletes, plus we
do Makhaya Ntini and Ryk Neethling as well.

Our core
business is contract negotiations. We negotiate the guys employment contracts
with their unions and clubs and over and above that we do sponsorship
endorsements for those where necessary and also media, or anything to do with
them. We help them with their finance, and their tax, and their investments. We
try and take as much pressure off them when they’re on the field so they can
just concentrate on their sport.

I manage
some of the high-profile guys. I look after their day-to-day stuff; I do their
diary management, their finance, their tax, their sponsorship management. I
look after their appearances requests; help them with their fan mail.

Olympic gold-medalist Penny Heyns remains among South Africa’s most recognizable female sports star, despite being retired for a few years.

from as broad as briefing them for functions, helping them write speeches to
making sure their electricity is paid at the end of the month when they’re
away… (laughs)!

It is a
broad service we offer to our clients. We are currently based in
Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town, and then we do have an office in
the UK as well. We
have associations in Greece
and France.
We look after quite a substantial amount of players

Do you represent South Africa female athletes?

We don’t at
this stage. We’ve looked at helping one or two in the past. We’ve done ad-hoc
stuff for them, not necessarily looked after them on a full-time basis. I think
there is a huge gap in South
Africa for sportswomen to come through
because, since Penny Heyns, there hasn’t really been anyone who has captured
the imagination.

Cloete was close to that but when you see all those surveys that are done,
Penny Heyns still scores in the top 10 of sportswomen in this country. It just
goes to show there is a huge gap for females in this country.

There are
some great female athletes like some hockey players, some great swimmers that are
coming through now, and in athletics especially. I think it’s the profile of
their sport that needs to be lifted.

 Do you think because of a lack of agents pushing
women, their profile of sport in South Africa
is diminished?

I wouldn’t
say it’s just that. I would say it’s a combination of factors. I would say it’s
the profile of the sport because obviously we are a rugby, soccer, and cricket
mad nation, and those three sports are predominantly male, although they do
have female components to them.

I think the
profile of sport needs to be lifted, and the individuals’ profiles need to be
lifted. Maybe there aren’t enough people pushing the profile of sportswomen…
maybe there aren’t enough sponsors who are buying into the process of using a
sportswoman as their brand ambassador.

I look at
swimming for example. The reason swimming’s profile has lifted in this country
is because of the likes of Roland Schoeman, Ryk Neethling, Lyndon Ferns and
Darian Townsend. When they won that (Olympic gold) medal, they lifted the
profile of themselves and they lifted the profile of their sport.

We’ve got
some great female swimmers. All we need is one of them or two of them to come
through at the Olympics next year, and it will immediately raise their profile
because swimming is already heightened because of the guys.

If you look
at the hockey players – a hockey player like Kate Hector – she is an amazing
female athlete, she is a good speaker, she will be a good brand ambassador –
she is really good at what she does – she excels in her field. But yet there
just doesn’t seem to be a market like there is for a rugby player, or a soccer
player, or a cricketer.

Swimming sensation Natalie du Toit continues to make headlines and win public support, because of her determination to excel despite her disability.

How can we improve the situation?

It’s much
tougher for them (sportswomen). As a professional cricketer or a soccer player
or a rugby player, you get paid an income by your federation and most of time
that will cover your costs to train permanently, and I suppose athletics as

But as a
hockey player or a swimmer, you do get paid by your federation, but your
federations are no way near as supported by sponsors as the others in
comparisons, so most of those girls have to get jobs to supplement their
income, so they can’t just train full time.

It is a bit
of a vicious circle. We need some icons. That’s what it’s about. When we were
growing up we had Zola Budd and all those athletes. The one for me that comes
closest to it at the moment who I think has done really well in this country is
Natalie du Toit.

Yeah, she’s got sponsors, but it’s not a comfortable
lifestyle for her!

The most
important thing about being an athlete is the package you offer. Most of the
top sportswomen have got the package. The package (includes) speaking well,
being presentable, being able to handle yourself in a crowd, being marketable
and being sort of young and funky, and having something (that makes) someone
want to be like you.

If you take
a handful of women, most of them will meet that criteria but somehow through
the profile of their sport or just through the profile of … I’m not sure … you
know it just doesn’t seem to be as attractive an opportunity as using (leading
sportsmen). Maybe because its not as well supported in terms of the sport, and
that’s what the sponsors are buying into.

How does the South African situation compare with
women sports star internationally?

In the last
few years, there has been an increase in the profile of women sports stars in
this country. I think it’s been slow, but I think that its there. It’s
definitely better than it was. It is a gradual improvement. Magazines like Sports Illustrated, where they are
profiling these female athletes, its helping. If everyone just does it more, it
will help.

But I think
internationally in this field, people are way ahead of us. If you look at the
States or you look at UK,
their agencies there are way ahead of us, and the attitude to sponsors are way
ahead of us in terms of how they foresee using individuals in sport.

Of our 300
clients, only our top 10 clients have been used for endorsements by sponsors.
Its easy to get a technical sponsors for a guy. The boots and all of that … the
playing gear, that’s not an issue.

But to be a
true brand ambassador like a Schalk Burger, or Bob Skinstad … that kind of
profile… or Ryk Neethling or Makhaya – that really happens to a handful of sportsmen
and if you look across the three sports, and I talk specifically because that’s
the sports I know – ‘cause that’s what I work in – but if you look, you’ll see
in each of those sports there’s like five- to ten players that are always used
by sponsors.

SPAR national women’s hockey player Kate Hector is a sponsor’s dream, according to Prosport International’s Fiona de Souza.

I mean Jonty
Rhodes, look at what he did for cricket. If you look at it now – its Graeme,
and Herschelle and Jacques. It’s the same guys being used – AB de Villiers. If
you look at rugby – its Schalk, its Pierre Spies, its Bryan Habana – all the
same guys that are marketable and I think that’s what happens in every sport.

I think
sponsors in South Africa
are using people more and more compared to when we first started. Compared to
international, we are way behind. Internationally, they use their sportsmen far
more, but somehow here its not (as regular).

So, would you say that participation in sport is a
viable career option?

I think to
be blessed with a talent is an incredible thing, and I think if you can pursue
a career in it and that’s your passion, you are very fortunate. Even the guys
who are the Bryan Habanas and the Schalk Burgers of this world will tell you
how fortunate they are to have the following that they have.

I think if
you can pursue it you should, if you’re good at it. But I think its very tough
for women, and I don’t think it’s an easy road at all, especially because the
profile of their sport needs to be lifted in order for their profiles to be

What is your advice to female sports stars about
building their individual brands?

For me, if I
was a sponsor, and I was looking at an athlete, I would look at a package. I
would look at somebody who is obviously top of their game on the field, and top
of their game off the field.

speaking skills, work on their marketability in terms of presentation. I don’t
just mean you have to be 6ft, blonde and gorgeous. You have to be presentable,
you have to be able to stand up and talk to 200 people at a breakfast, or go
play a round of golf in a Golf Day. Those kind of things all help.

I think
getting involved in a charity that they enjoy is a very good piece of advice as
well – to give back. When you are fortunate you do have to give back. Whether
it’s the SPCA, CHOC, or Red Cross Children’s Hospital – I do think it’s
important to give back to the community.

If I was a
sponsor, and I want to sign someone, that’s the kind of thing I’d be looking
for – a personality.


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About the Author:

<a href="" target="_self">Kass Naidoo</a>

Kass Naidoo

Passionate sports broadcaster and founder of gsport4girls


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