Penny Heyns knows all too well how important it is to build a personal brand on an international level. Now the legendary swimmer is on a mission to help South Africa’s aquatic athletes unlock commercial opportunities in the build-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“As a former Olympic champion, I can firmly attest the fact that although building your profile as an international athlete is important, the true value will be evident as you pursue your post-pool career.
“Today’s athletes are blessed with the potential that technology affords them. They are able to focus on their performances in the pool while also making sure their brands are well looked after.”
Heyns has teamed up with rugby legend Bryan Habana to help South African swimmers and other aquatic athletes build their international profiles.
The double Olympic gold medallist, and the World Cup-winning Springbok star, recently announced a partnership to enhance the marketability of all aquatic athletes with less than a year to go until the Olympic Games.
The pair will work together on rolling out MatchKit.co to Heyns’ aquatic network; giving athletes a platform to further commercialise their brands.
Matchkit.co is an international mobile web app, developed to help athletes maximise the commercialisation of their careers. Heyns says the partnership will give aquatics athletes a much needed boost.
“I got in touch with Bryan after hearing of the platform of his agency Retroactive,” says Heyns. “Bryan had a stellar career in rugby and I could relate with the challenges that come after your playing days. I love the product. I think it is genius what the platform provides for athletes. Coming out of a sport such as aquatics, with many of our Olympic medals coming from the pool, it is important to try and give our athletes support. Some of the world’s, and indeed South Africa’s, greatest Olympic athletes are swimmers.
“These athletes may enjoy icon status within the aquatics world with a huge social media following, they are still from a Cinderella sport with few enjoying the exposure and sponsorship opportunities deserving of their sporting performances.
The 45-year-old stressed the importance of growing one’s own personal brand given the “new normal”. “Swimmers like Chad le Clos and others might be icons with a huge following on social media, but they still won’t have the same earnings as other sporting celebrities.
“I thought Matchkit would afford our aquatics athletes, in fact all of our athletes, to put together a seamless platform where potential sponsors could get a good idea of their digital following, influence and reach. It opens up the opportunity for them to build their brand. During a time of Covid-19, it has become even more important for athletes to use technology and the tools within their reach to open up commercial opportunities. The commercial space has really suffered and every bit of help to gain an advantage is needed.”
Matchkit allows athletes or their agents to build a mobile website in minutes that integrates all of their social media accounts giving data such as digital reach, influence and engagement.
“It showcases their sponsors and comprises a built-in inbox for athletes or agents to receive commercial briefs,” says Heyns.
“Athletes can accept payments for their own foundation or a charity of their choice. It has a hassle and fee-free, plug and play merch store to sell branded caps, hoodies, T-shirts or personalised voice notes / videos.
“This platform packages your digital reach onto one space which makes it easier for athletes to sell and commercialise their brand.”
South African aquatic athletes in particular battle to build their brands, says Heyns. “I don’t think someone like Chad le Clos, despite his achievements, would get the same mileage as a Wayde van Niekerk in the commercial space. We have other athletes like Tatjana Schoenmaker, who also has a great online following. It does not translate to sponsorship. Swimming is a Cinderella sport, we are not part of the top three like rugby, soccer and cricket.
“Athletics, bar some of the high-profile stars, has always struggled to attract lucrative sponsors and instead of relying solely on backing from federations, athletes have to start taking their future into their own hands. We have to make the most of technology and maximise opportunities.”
Heyns believes that Matchkit will give aquatic athletes the ability to seamlessly integrate their respectivesocial media accounts.
“As we get nearer to the Olympics, you will find a lot of brands on the lookout for potential associations. Having that Matchkit.co platform will make it easier for our athletes to market themselves and to get financial and brand backing ahead of the event.”
The mobile app will be of particular help to aquatic athletes in SA who face a number of challenges, says Heyns.
“South Africa has a lot of talent in the pool, but we don’t have the greatest opportunities. Those opportunities can be made available to our swimmers if they want to go on scholarship to the US, which is something I highly recommend. We also know funding is a problem and this extra tool will go a long way in ensuring our athletes can give their careers the best opportunity of succeeding.”
Despite the challenges they face, like a lack of financial support by sports federations, Heyns has high hopes for South Africa’s aquatic athletes at the upcoming Tokyo Games.
“I feel excited to see our swimmers preparing to perform on the greatest stage of all. South Africa has always produced world-class performers and the up-and-coming talent is sure to keep that trend going in Tokyo and beyond.
“Chad le Clos and Tatjana Schoenmaker have very good chances of podium finishes. After not having female swimmers in Rio, Tatjana has handled herself exceptionally well on the international stage having won silver at the World Champs last year.
Hopefully next year we will see her rising to the occasion. “But anything can happen in the pool on the day. Even in my own career; you can go in as the defending champion or record-holder and not even make it past the heat stages.
“All in all, I am very excited about our prospects.”