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Treating sport as entertainment

For once, the culture shifted. How artistes must have salivated and regretted their career choices! If you tried staging a concert during the World Cup, you were merely looking to flop.

State of the Art with Admire Kudita

Ask Jay Z and Beyonce. I read somewhere that they had to give away tickets to their On the Run II joint concert series. The stadiums were not filling up that good. True or false, what matters is that the World Cup had no parallels.

I saw even grannies and khulus (grandfathers) glued to their television screens throughout the World Cup which was won eventually by France. The whole world was watching footballers; the real money machines and celebrities.

Global church

It is really not my aim to talk about football per se. I watched for the crowds when I got a chance to watch a match. I marvelled at the unfailing crowd appeal of the sport in Europe. Sport as entertainment surpasses everything else in pop culture.

It is a major drawcard for mass audiences. You are only ever going to see crowds akin to what we were seeing during the World Cup at a Rolling Stones concert, a Tina Turner farewell tour in South America or a prophetic church gathering titled with some grand promise of the miraculous.

Though I tried to stay away from the hoopla over soccer, I kept myself abreast with the staggering disappointments of Germany, Brazil and Portugal’s losses. The football superstars all had to watch from the sidelines as new stars were birthed. All the while at the back of my mind, the news of Ronaldo’s stupendous £100 million (US$130 million) signing for Juventus kept playing.

TV, business in sport

Stateside, before the Superbowl finals, major league artists are chosen to stage performances before buoyant stadium crowds. But this is not where the money is. The money is in television audiences tuned in to view the American football match finals.

Business brands such as Qatar Airways and Coca Cola have long understood the import of placing subliminal messages on to the subconscious of sports fans via adverts during matches.

Football pitches are peppered with billboards of paying businesses flogging their products and services and in a world of short attention spans, the struggle is truly real.

For example, Sky TV was willing to pay £191 million (US$242 million) for five years for the English Premier League broadcasting rights in 1992, marking a watershed year for football.

This act changed football forever as the money began to flood the game. Sky TV understood that football is a shiny ball that commands the attention of millions of viewers. In this vein, controlling that platform means controlling a very lucrative money machine as international businesses jostle to launch their products on the platform created in the process via television.

Entertainment value

The global support for sports events is visceral and borders on the religious. It supersedes all the arts put together. The fans are die hard and culturally, the local equivalence is in support for teams such as Highlanders, Dynamos and Caps United.

Thus, the Superbowl stage has hosted the likes of Beyonce, Bruno Mars and the late king of pop Michael Jackson.

Attraction

One of the challenges of creatives in general with the exception of maybe Britain and America, is the dearth of business savvy professionals to lead the sector to the proverbial rainbow’s end. Basketball has had its David Stern who is responsible, according to some industry watchers, for turning the National Basketball Association into the golden goose it has been since the era of Michael Jordan.

Incidentally, at his peak, Jordan, as king of the basketball court was courted by the self-styled king of pop Michael Jackson for video appearances (in the video of the song Jam). Michael Jackson knew well enough to follow the crowd where it is.

The creative sector, more so in Africa, is generally lacking of structures such as unions and other systems that support the monetisation thereof.

Hip hop example

There is a reason why Sean Combs is the richest musician in the world right now according to Forbes magazine reports. He has understood ahead of others how to parlay celebrity into cash.

He has understood, more then others, the power of using creativity to create a brand with global mileage. As founder of Bad Boy Entertainment, he led from the front as a mogul shepherding the careers of artists such as Biggie Smalls, Mase, Mary J Blige and Craig Mack.

Perhaps borrowing from Russell Simmons’ dalliances with Adidas and his rap group Run DMC, Sean Combs, also known as Diddy, has used his celebrity and reputation as a music Svengali with the Midas touch to set up clothing labels such as Sean John and perfume lines.

They are all based on his projected aura as an inspirational American style and pop culture dynamo. What is more, Diddy helped turned a liqueur brand, Ciroc, into a multi-million-dollar brand. Product placement is a definite hustler play of Diddy.

Last word

The relevance of all this reflection is to illustrate the importance of having an understanding of how all business makes money: you need to pull crowds to your “show”.

Whatever that “show” is, if it is a product or service that sells to only two people, you will soon go broke. Creatives cannot expect the money to come if they cannot find mass markets. I do not know much about the anatomy of a hit except to say that I know that it is a hit when everyone is either humming it or watching it. And a hit is a pop culture phenomenon which has the most number of people buzzing about it like the Word Cup.

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