Monday, 18 January 2010

The Bullring

The Bidvest Wanderers Cricket Stadium, affectionately known as the "Bullring" because of its intimidatory atmosphere, is a relatively small ground with steepish stands capable of accommodating 35000 passionate cricket fans in the heart of Africa’s commercial capital - Johannesburg. Add to this, dramatic thunderstorms, the final test against the English in a must win for the host country, 30 degree heat, some controversy, a fast bouncing pitch and it is very difficult to avoid getting a ticket if you have an opportunity to watch a late afternoon session, like this blogger had on Saturday.

The advantage of a five day cricket test, even in a late afternoon session, is that there is time to observe. If you think that advertising space on the back of a toilet door has value, it is nothing in comparison to the opportunities for marketers to exploit the thinking time of a captive during a cricket test and somewhat healthier for the captive too!

Apart from the RSA ambush of three slips, a gully and short leg to thwart England’s attempt to launch their rearguard action that evening, Investec were taking on Standard Bank (Africa's largest bank) in their own form of aggression - competitive advertising. An electronic billboard flashed relative newcomer Investec every so often conveniently against the backdrop of the impressive Standard Bank hospitality suite. Not only did Investec get the space, the flashes managed to mimic the white on blue colours of the market leader.

Not to be outdone, the food and beverage industry was raging its own battle. Coca-Cola, no stranger to competitive marketing, was doing its best to upstage local market leader in the sports drink category (Energade) with its Powerade billboard alongside. Meanwhile, Nando’s, probably RSA’s most successful international food franchise brands and well known for its opportunistic marketing, found itself selling its food alongside a Nino’s eatery adorned in a similar white and green. It is when you see what happens in sports stadiums that you consider the impact of (and some argue, reason for) the controversially restrictive Metcash ambush marketing decision ahead of the Fifa World Cup 2010 or why the 2003 Rugby World Cup was not offered to New Zealand in 2003, over stadia contractual disputes.

Moving away from competitive marketing, it is interesting to note that despite the efforts of Steyn, Morkel and/or Parnell, whose bowling caused havoc that evening, their success is unlikely to ever be as commercially valuable to a sponsor as the batting scalps they claim, simply because the advertising space on a batsman’s bat is more prominent for television viewing. There was also a notable absence of law firm advertising. Perhaps this is because of budgets cuts or because sports box hosting is passé for legal service firms?

Finally, during one of the rain/bad light breaks, the electronic scoreboard lit up with a message. It was not a New Year’s message but an order that all spectators “shall not discriminate” described in about 20 words, which included “acts“ which might “intimidate” those of a different “national origin”. Plainly, it did not stop the partisan crowd cheering the fall of an English wicket or the intimidatory marketing on display. It was hardly intended to either.

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