Cricket South Africa in face-saving exercise



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Cricket South Africa partners with Roc Nation Entertainment Image: @newlandscricket (Twitter)

Cricket South Africa (CSA) have turned to entertainment agency Roc Nation for assistance with solving their (99) problems following a lengthy period of administrative upheaval and reputational damage.

The ‘ESPN cricinfo’ stated that the company, owned by rapper and record executive Jay-Z, already has white-ball captain Temba Bavuma and fast-bowler Lungi Ngidi on their books. Roc Nation has also partnered with other South African sports organizations such as the rugby franchise, The Sharks, and football team Mamelodi Sundowns F.C., and will work with CSA on fan engagement and event experience as the organization seeks to “rebuild trust” following a tumultuous two-and-a-half years.

Johannesburg (South Africa)-based Cricket South Africa (CSA) is the governing body for both professional and amateur cricket in South Africa. In 1991, the separate South African Cricket Union and the South African Cricket Board merged to form the United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCB), ending enforced racial separation governance in South African cricket. Cricket South Africa was formed in 2002, and initially ran parallel to the UCB, before becoming the sole governing body in 2008. As an affiliate of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC), and a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC), CSA administers all levels of cricket in South Africa, including the national teams in all three formats for both men and women.

Roc Nation is an entertainment agency founded by Jay-Z in 2008. The company has offices in New York, London and Los Angeles. It includes a talent agency, sports agency, record label, management, TV and film, a clothing line, media relations, publishing, school, philanthropy, an exhibition network, and more.

The ‘ESPN cricinfo’ further stated that this is Roc Nation’s first foray into cricket, and so they won’t be running this town entirely quite yet.

Said CSA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Pholetsi Moseki, “We are not bringing them in as cricket development partners. We understand that we are experts in developing talent and in cricket but we also have to be realistic that there are other subject matter experts outside of cricket. So we are bringing them in for a different perspective and help us connect better with fans. We were quite aware that they have zero experience in cricket apart from representing a few of our cricketers but we are also aware that they have got experience in terms of what we want to achieve in terms of connecting with our fans.”

One of Roc Nation’s specific roles will revolve around matchday activation, for which they will draw on their experience in hosting high-profile events, including music concerts.

Stated Michael Yormark, President of Roc Nation Sport International, “We put on some of the biggest events in the world. We are involved in the Super Bowl, which is one of the biggest events globally.”

Though Yormark conceded that his agency “May not know as much about cricket as other agencies”, he said he saw that as an advantage – “It allows us to bring a new thought process, new ideas, fresh ideas to the table. What we really want to do is bring the best practices from global events – practices that focus on what’s great for the fan – to South Africa and allow Cricket South Africa to take advantage of them for all these events that are coming up in their calendar over the next couple of years.”

South Africa will host three ICC events in the next five years – the women’s under-19 T20 World Cup next January, the women’s T20 World Cup in February and the men’s ODI World Cup (alongside Zimbabwe and Namibia) in 2027 – and are focused on putting their best foot forward for those events.

Said Lawson Naidoo, CSA’s Board Chair, “We are acutely aware of the challenges we face – the economic climate, the fact that sport is part of the entertainment business and we are competing with others in that space.”

CSA have also lost ground, by their own admission, because of their free-fall into on- and off-field chaos. Since late 2019, the Board has changed twice and a significant portion of the senior staff, including the former CEO Thabang Moroe, has been sacked for misconduct. The CSA were also found wanting in the way they handled the Black Lives Matter movement – a particularly polarizing issue given South Africa’s segregated past – which culminated in the Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) project that pointed fingers at the former Director of Cricket, Graeme Smith, and men’s head coach, Mark Boucher, who were accused of prejudicial conduct. Smith was cleared and charges against Boucher were dropped but the effects of the SJN hearings on the South African cricket community will linger.

Apart from the division highlighted by SJN, which has alienated some supporters, the CSA also continues to struggle to attract investors for their product. None of the three men’s domestic competitions is sponsored and the men’s national team has not had a headline sponsor since Standard Bank walked away in April 2020. The national women’s team continues to be backed by financial services company Momentum but the women’s domestic events also take place without corporate backing. Another part of Roc Nation’s deal with CSA is to help them find commercial partners.

Added Moseki, “We’ve been brutally honest over the last few months about the lack of trust, not even just the fans but with a lot of our stakeholders. We have been honest that we need to do quite a lot of work to regain that trust. To build trust takes a very long time but to lose it literally takes a split second. This is part of the journey of rebuilding that trust. As an example, connecting better with our fans and doing the things correctly, at organization and corporate level. We are doing those things but we also understand that we need to communicate better with fans. It’s a journey. We understand it’s going to take a while.”

Like many other sporting boards, the CSA also have not had much opportunity to see their fans since the pandemic hit, but pre COVID-19, interest levels in cricket were encouraging. While Test attendances have always been fairly low (apart from a few days at the 22,000-capacity SuperSport Park in Centurion, South Africa, the 34,000-capacity Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg and the 25,000-capacity Newlands Cricket Ground in Cape Town), men’s ODIs and T20Is were sellouts and the demographic of South African crowds had noticeably changed to include more people of color, more women and more families.

Stated Errol Madlala, CSA’s Acting Chief Commercial Officer, “The first step is to get back to the level we were at and that is already a standard that was high.”

South Africa has hosted two series in which fans were allowed in limited numbers and both were poorly attended. For the curtailed ODIs against Netherlands (which were stopped after discovery of the Omicron variant) 2000 spectators were allowed into the grounds, while there was a 50 percent capacity available for the two Tests against Bangladesh. Despite that, neither the 25,000-capacity Hollywoodbets Kingsmead Stadium in Durban nor the 19,000-capacity St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth came close to filling their quota, and have historically also struggled to attract crowds. The CSA intends to work with Roc Nation to get bums on seats, including those belonging to people who don’t normally watch live cricket.

Said Madlala, “What we are adding is looking at how we also compete for the hearts and minds of our fans as well as attract those outside of cricket into the cricket space. The advantage we have over other sporting codes is that we’ve got time, our events are slightly longer.”

Roc Nation will also be in charge of some of CSA’s social media over the duration of their three-year deal. CSA confirmed they will pay Roc Nation “a small retainer” along with incentives attached to commercial deals. In other words, they’re trying to build an empire, or at least that’s their state of mind.

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