SA Tourism’s plan to sponsor Premier League club Spurs hits snags

By our News Team | 2023

Marketing deal would cost around US$51.8-million over three years and aim to boost international tourism. But critics are unconvinced.

A proposed sponsorship agreement between South Africa’s national tourism marketing body, SA Tourism, and English Premier League soccer club Tottenham Hotspur has become mired in controversy due to strong opposition to the deal within the country.

A local media outlet leaked details of the deal on Wednesday and on Thursday (yesterday) the widespread criticism led to SA Tourism calling a media conference to explain its position and marketing rationale.

Sports Sponsorship

Spurs (white shirts) and Chelsea line up before a home game to pay tribute to a former star. Photo credit: @cfcunofficial (Chelsea Debs) London via Wikimedia Commons

According to reports, the three-year agreement could include sleeve branding, social media posts and various other brand tie-ups, and would cost £42.5-million (equal to US$51.8-million or ZAR910-million). 

While there is apparently a memorandum of understanding between the two parties, nothing has yet been signed and would first also have to pass muster with the national government, including the National Treasury.

Should the deal go ahead, South Africa would join African nations Rwanda and Mauritius in having sponsorship deals with English Premier League teams. Rwanda has an agreement with Arsenal and Mauritius has a contract with Liverpool. Rwanda also has a tie-in with the dominant French soccer club, Paris Saint Germain (PSG). 

Rwanda’s Official Tourism Partner contract with Arsenal is said to have boosted tourist arrivals by an additional 8%, while the country’s tourism body is on record as saying its three-year PSG deal helps to market Made in Rwanda products and to “convey Rwanda’s openness to welcome business partnerships from France and across the world”.

Claims the money could be better spent elsewhere

The criticism from within South Africa includes assertions that the money could be better spent on improving local infrastructure and alleviating poverty, that too much of the tourism budget is being invested in a single project, and that Tottenham is not a particularly prominent or successful club.

Addressing Thursday’s media conference, Themba Khumalo, South African Tourism’s Acting CEO, told journalists: “The deal we are looking at has nothing to do with football. It’s got to do with accessing the aggregating audiences that football brings. When you do a deal at this scale it commands the attention of the world.”

He added: “This envisaged deal is not asking the fiscus to introduce new money into our budget.” 

“It makes sense commercially, but no agreement has been signed and it will be discussed further with the tourism minister and department, and the National Treasury.” 

According to a Reuters news report from August 2022, the English Premier League broadcasts to 80-million homes in 188 countries, with 90 broadcasters and more than 400 channels showing games. The Premier League and its clubs also have around a billion followers on social media.

Tottenham has several past links with South Africa. Specialist bank and asset management firm Investec was a shirt sponsor for Champions League and domestic cup competitions in the early 2000s. Bafana Bafana striker Steven Pienaar also played for the club for several seasons.

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