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Corporate patriotism is not a million dollar sport sponsorship

File photo of the Nedbank Golf Challenge.

File photo of the Nedbank Golf Challenge.

Published Feb 18, 2022

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I find it somewhat ironic, that at a time when we in South Africa debate whether we should follow economic policy as a pure capitalistic nation, or that of a developmental state, one of the country’s largest banks directs and employs its capital - not at the masses of unemployed and jobless people, but at the opposite of the spectrum, with a niche audience and event sponsorship aimed at the elite and the super-rich.

There’s nothing wrong in a little aspiration of course, and they may spend their marketing budget where they like – if it makes sense and delivers returns. But it strikes me that returns at this juncture in our post pandemic economic fight for survival, should not just be measured in terms of brand awareness and aspiration, but in terms of systemic change and sustainable good.

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On the Nedbank Sponsorship web page, the bank states: “Nedbank has earned the reputation of being a leader in South African sponsorship marketing, based on its innovative partnerships and its ability to bring a strong social dimension to sponsorship. The variety and scale of Nedbank's sponsorship properties not only ensure that there is something to appeal to all tastes and preferences but also that the Nedbank brand is experienced across the length and breadth of South Africa”

Now, I am not a sports sponsorship or marketing pundit, but, as an analyst, I do believe that Nedbank’s current approach to niche sponsorship is far removed from the reality of the South African headlines and where disposable income could be better spent, for example, "3 297 SA schools still have pit toilets, risking the lives of pupils - SAHRC Pupils from 3 000 schools from six provinces in the country risk falling into pits…” This is an instance where sponsorship of upliftment could well earn longer term rewards and brand loyalty.

Nedbank further explains: “Each property was chosen for its compliance with the bank's sponsorship policy and guidelines. Nedbank does not consider or participate in sponsorships involving: religious groups, political parties and related activities; combat sport or gambling; environmentally unfriendly activities; activities or events engaging direct competitor activity or other high-profile sponsors; groups, teams, clubs and individuals (including staff); provincial or regional bodies or activities; once-off unsustainable activities or events; events or activities that are exclusionary on the basis of race, religion, gender or disability; and international events or activities.”

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Missing from this shopping list of dos and don'ts is exclusionary on the grounds of income, which would account for their sponsorship of the Nedbank Golf Challenge (NGC) at Sun City, with its mostly international participants.

On 14, November 2019, Daily Maverick reporter Craig Ray, under the heading ‘Tournaments Tainted History’, observed that: “Sun City remains one of South Africa’s enduring shrines to opulence and greed, and the NGC, despite its best efforts to restyle itself, will always be tainted by its birth, which was not about sporting excellence, but a show of defiance through avarice”. He goes on to state: “Despite golf’s syrupy love of its ‘values, honour and traditions’, the professional game has always been about money.”

Eloquent words are no match for few or insignificant deeds that have the correct merit and impact. Although it would appear that Nedbank’s group marketing and corporate affairs, Khensani Nobanda may have expressed the right sentiment in the words: “often, we realise too late that by getting caught in the whirlwind wreaking havoc around us, we lose sight of what is important and what it means to be human,”

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Nobanda, like Nedbank itself, is still not in touch with the reality of living in an economically strained South Africa, where the majority of South Africans do not aspire to play golf or wear a Rolex watch, but simply to have a bank account into which they can put any sum of money…

The Living Standards Measure (LSM) is a marketing tool used in South Africa. These measures divide the population into 10 LSM groups, where ten is the highest living standard level and one, the lowest. The tool is used to identify target markets for the distribution of consumer goods products in the country. The middle segment, LSM 4-7, represents more than 50 percent of our population.

What story is Nedbank telling the masses of people that fall outside of the LSM8-10 income group? The winner of the 2019 Nedbank Golf Challenge is now set to receive a winner’s cheque for $2.5 million (R38m) – double the $1.25m banked by England’s Lee Westwood in 2018. The tournament’s overall prize fund will remain at $7.5m, this equates to R112 000 000, with the remainder of the field playing for the remaining $5m. In the past 14 years, only one local player walked away with the top honours. These numbers make the Lotto winner look like a local Fafi winner.

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For South Africa, the need for a national conversation on Corporate Patriotism has never been more important. Ralph Nader reported in the Chicago Tribune July 20, 2011: “for more than 125 years the courts have been awarding corporations most of the constitutional rights possessed by human beings,” so I ask, isn’t it high time the individual human is in the driving seat and that corporates support humans and nature first – I mean, how many beds at any one time can one person sleep in with all those billions in their own bank accounts?

In the research magazine, The Emerald Insight, they state: “…corporate patriotic appeal is a dimension relevant to the reputations of firms.” Should a war break out (heaven forbid), ordinary citizens will be called up to defend our land. Why do corporates live in a vacuum where only profits accrue to them, and no other patriotic deeds are called for?

Reading the Nedbank Sponsorship web page, it is glaringly obvious that the bank does not see patriotic responsibility as something of value at all, or if they do, they make a point to stay clear, for fear of stepping on someone’s toes.

How is it possible that the citizens of South Africa adore our various National sporting teams, but Nedbank has never sponsored or acknowledged the excellence in our cricket and rugby teams, nor the swimming heroics or hockey teams, and those of our other athletes that have served as the pride of our Nation? Is it too much to ask for them to allocate some sponsorship money to help to bring South African Tennis back to its former glory for example?

It is a constant fascination for me to monitor the composition of South Africa’s tax base. The contributions to the fiscus: Personal Income Tax (PIT) at 39.1 percent, Corporate Income Tax (CIT) at 16.4 percent and Value-added Tax (VAT) at 26.5 percent, in aggregate remain the largest sources of tax revenue and comprise 81.9 percetn of total tax revenue collections. Additionally, individuals also pay a hefty tax on the use of consumer goods such as fuel and cigarettes. Corporates are treated with kid’s gloves while the man in the street is bullied by the State.

Nedbank’s stance towards lavish sponsorship and association with the richest luxurious brands such as Rolex at a time like this, evokes a memory dating back to the 18th Century. Marie Antoinette’s name became associated with the decline in the moral authority of the French monarchy. The French Revolution finally led to the overthrow of the monarchy in August 1792. Her alleged remark: “let them eat cake,” has been reckoned to demonstrate her obliviousness to the poor conditions in which many of her subjects lived, whilst she lived decadently.

South Africa’s ruling party, after 28 years, has acknowledged that they cannot create jobs. That is a good start, but where do the people of this country stand in relation to the corporate sector and their ‘sponsorship’ of a more patriotic and egalitarian future?

Corrie Kruger is an Independent Analyst

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