Research and data expert Nielsen Sports SA works with most of the major players in South African sport and Jean Willers is its Managing Director, having joined the business from Advent Sport Entertainment and Media (ASEM) in 2018, where he ended up running the sponsorship department. He joined Nielsen as Client Services/Business Development Manager, before taking the MD reins in January 2020.
Q: How did your time with ASEM prepare you for your current role?
A: Having the opportunity to work across a wide variety of projects in a small yet dynamic team really accelerated my learning and understanding of the sports industry in South Africa. Having strong role models and business leaders as mentors within the business was key to my leadership skills and growth.
Q: What exactly does Nielsen Sports do?
A: Nielsen Sports South Africa equips decision makers with smart data and advice, allowing them to better understand and connect with audiences and fans through media, sponsorship, communication and experiential platforms.
Q: How big is the Nielsen Sports SA team?
A: We now have 12 members in our team. We were fortunate not to let go of any of our staff during the pandemic in 2020. We’ve recently made a few appointments and are looking to keep growing as the industry recovers and keeps evolving in 2021 and beyond.
Q: As MD, what do you regard as your primary focus and areas of responsibility?
A: Ensuring that all stakeholders in our business are happy is my key responsibility, both internally with staff and suppliers, as well as externally with current or future clients.
Q: Do you believe the business of research and data has grown in importance, in the wake of the impact of Covid-19 on the sports sector?
A: Yes, very much so. Data is the new “oil” and without it businesses are not able to make informed decisions. Gone are the days where sponsorship and commercial decisions are being made solely on emotion. The correct data and research tells the true story and decisions now rely on data and research.
Q: Are you currently working from home or the office, and how have you adapted to the change in work routine?
A: We are a fully “work-from-home” business and our team is spread across five provinces. With reliable, fast internet and the ever-evolving software options, there is no reason for us to ever return to an office. We have seen a massive improvement in staff output.
Q: What does your daily routine look like? Early mornings or late nights?
A: Both, with mornings spent getting my two toddler girls ready for school! Late nights are spent catching up on work admin and emails. Most days are spent either in virtual team meetings discussing projects, finance and clients, or I am out meeting with current or potential clients.
Q: How do you cope with stress and how do you unwind?
A: I try my best to stick to a good exercise routine, either walking, running or cycling every day. Mornings are best for exercise as the day seems to run away with me if I even think about doing any exercise in the afternoon. Then, I really love golf and nothing beats the Johannesburg golf experience – some of the best courses in the world and the weather all year round is always perfect!
Q: What do you view as the biggest impact of Covid-19 on the way sport is run, consumed, commercialised etc?
A: Flexibility. As an industry, we’ve had to ensure that everything we do or plan moving forward has to have a certain level of flexibility. Sponsorship contracts, broadcast models and packages, activations plans, events and all other areas of the sports, cultural and entertainment industry have to learn to be flexible and have the ability to adapt to the changing needs of the environment, economy and needs of the consumer.
Q: How has the sponsorship landscape changed?
A: For brands, budgets have been cut and brands/sponsors are under enormous pressure to justify marketing spend, so showing real return on investment in the sponsorship industry has never been more important. Sponsorship portfolios are being reviewed on a daily basis and here at Nielsen Sports we can’t keep up with the amount of sponsorship valuation requests we are receiving from brands. For rights-holders, the experience of Covid-19 should be viewed as the biggest opportunity, as never before have they had the time to self-reflect and engage in some introspection, with regards their businesses, rights offerings and events they host. Rights-holders that have used this time as an opportunity to get themselves ready for the future are going to be in a really strong position moving into the “new” normal.