Thursday, 7 November 2013

Building On Momentum: The Plan for Women's Cricket In South Africa

In October 2013, Cricket South Africa made a major announcement: no fewer than six leading women's cricket players, including team captain Mignon de Preez, had been awarded central contracts for the forthcoming season.

As a statement of intent, it was of itself a clarion call. In the murky semi-professionalism of women's cricket, it's often difficult to make exact comparisons between what the different countries are doing; but nevertheless it is pretty clear that this deal puts South Africa firmly towards the top-end of the table - behind Australia certainly; but ahead of New Zealand and perhaps England too.

Behind all the different approaches, there lies a common problem: how to pay for a game that can't (yet) pay for itself?

Interested to understand how South Africa planned to square this circle, I spoke to Charlene Lackay from the team's official sponsor - financial services company Momentum.

Momentum are the "headline" sponsor for the team, which is set to be branded "The Momentum Women's Proteas" - but even so, I wondered: was there really going to be much Return on Investment, headlining a sport that ranks (at best) a distant third even in women's sports, behind tennis and golf?

Charlene's answer was both more nuanced and more fascinating than I would ever have expected.

Momentum's corporate goals are long-term. Traditionally an "investor" brand, they aim to grow their business by moving into the consumer space with a full range of family financial services - from car insurance, through healthcare, to investments. The new, consumer-focused Momentum is about 'You + Your Family' and they went looking for sponsorship opportunities which reflected that.

Cricket offered part of the answer so this, via the sponsorship of (men's) ODIs and domestic tournaments; but Momentum also realised that they wouldn't be able to just march-in, hand over the cheque book, and expect to get results. Instead, they needed to work with Cricket South Africa to help build the kind of atmosphere around game with which they wanted to be associated. Hence their promotion of Momentum Family Seating Areas at matches, where alcohol, smoking and swearing are forbidden; and Momentum Qwik-Cricket style kids games on the outfield during innings breaks.

Momentum's association with women's cricket takes this to a whole new level. Women's cricket in South Africa is tiny; but where most sponsors would see this as a problem, Momentum see it as an opportunity to help build a game which reflects their corporate values of inclusiveness, gender-equality and family. It's about more than getting the Momentum name on Mignon du Preez's shirt - that's nice, but it's only a start. The bigger challenge is to get the players out there, building the game from the ground up - coaching the next generation - turning women's cricket into the strong, competitive sport which will be even more proud to sponsor in eight or ten years time. So, that's the plan: to send the contracted players out, into the towns and cities, to build support for the women's game over the long term - nurturing not just the players of tomorrow, but the fans too.

What I personally find so inspiring about this is the proactive approach - it's so full of optimism: women's cricket isn't a viable business, so let's make it one! That's the plan… and as someone who passionately believes in women's cricket, I for one will not be betting against them.

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