The Managing Director of Stillwater Sports – the company behind a number of mass participation sports events – on how life and business has changed in the space over the last year-and-a-half.
Q: How has your job changed in the last 18 months?
A: As with most people, due to the pandemic, it’s been a rollercoaster ride the last 18 months. The first two to three months we were just waiting to see what happens and expected to get back into competition pretty soon, but as we all know, it’s taking a lot longer. It’s given us a lot of time to reflect, a lot of time to think about the mass participation industry, and a lot of time to look at how we are going to do things in the future.
Q: What does your daily routine look like?
A: I actually base my daily routine around trying to stay healthy and fit. We work long hours at Stillwater Sports, but I prioritise exercise and am always trying to go for a run or a bike ride or a surf at some time during the day. The rest of the day I spend working or with my family.
Q: Reflecting on the past 18 months, what’s your summary of the effect of Covid-19 on the SA sports and mass participation event industry?
A: We all know what the effect was, in that it brought everything to a grinding halt, but I have one real thought and maybe a regret around the way that the mass participation sports industry has progressed through this pandemic. It’s really one of the industries that has been hit the hardest by the lockdown measures and the measures instituted by government. I really believe that the mass participation sports industry, where people run and cycle and do triathlon and swim, could’ve been at the forefront of bringing people back into a sort of normal society, because it’s a health activity and focuses on health and wellness. Instead of being the last industry to get back up and running, it should have been the first one, because it encourages people to get into the outdoors and encourages people to be healthy. It’s a real regret, and when we review how the pandemic was handled in many years to come, I think this is going to be one of the ‘take outs’ in terms of mistakes that were made, that we didn’t use the mass participation sport industry, which entails people exercising daily, to come out of this pandemic.
Q: What does this mean for the future of this industry?
A: I believe that the measures that have to be put in place, in order for an event to take place, have added a new and onerous set of obligations on event organisers. It’s probably going to be more difficult for events to satisfy these requirements with their previous budgets and as a result, events are going to be under more pressure. Saying that, I think it’s really the way forward in terms of people now focusing on health and wellness and being able to exercise. We believe that in future people will choose to be participants rather than spectators.
Q: Do you think we’re at the point where people are now tired of virtual events?
A: YES! I think the era of a virtual event as a standalone event is over. It was a very strong novelty around lockdown and in the months after lockdown. People have now figured out how they can exercise in groups and be out and about, so I think the attractiveness of a virtual event as a replacement for an actual event doesn’t exist anymore. I believe the future of the virtual event is really as a ‘complementary’ event to an actual event which is happening.
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Q: Have you seen any Covid-influenced innovation, internationally, that you feel could translate well to the SA market, as it relates to the events space?
A: Before the pandemic I believe that South Africa, certainly in terms of mass participation running and cycling events, was one of the leaders in the world in terms of how these events are put on. In addition to that, I have to say that there hasn’t been much, that we have seen, that is new, fresh and innovative for the South African market. I think we’ve been quite innovative as it is. As South Africa progresses out of the pandemic and out of the lockdown restrictions, there certainly are elements of events being produced internationally that we can bring into the South African market.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A: I was very lucky to have two or three mentors when I was younger who taught me about the business side of sport. Being at the forefront of South Africa’s re-entry into international competition in 1991/1992, we really had to learn quickly about the business side of it. We were very naïve before that, being isolated. I was lucky to have two specific mentors who taught me about the business side of sport. When I established my own business, Stillwater Sports in 2000, the focus was to make it a client-based business. In other word,s we were using sport as a tool to help our clients achieve their goals, as opposed to being passionate event organisers who were just looking for a sponsor. That was never our method – we were looking to identify companies that we believed we could help achieve their marketing goals. That is why we’ve had such amazing relationships between sponsors and events over many years.
Q: Are you currently working from home or the office, and how have you adapted to the change in work routine?
A: We are back to normal (the new normal) in terms of eventing and in terms of the way that we operate. The business of producing events is made up of a very collaborative team process and it’s much more difficult to do it remotely over the screen. It’s a daily interaction between various stakeholders, so we were back in the office very early on in the process, obviously with all the protocols in place to ensure that we can work as a team. We’re back to normal in that sense.
Q: What does your daily routine look like? Early mornings or late nights?
A: Probably both. I have a five-year-old daughter, so she keeps me busy early in the mornings before I go to work and when I get home. Work gets done both early in the morning and late at night.
Q: How do you cope with stress and how do you unwind?
A: Stress is something that I minimise through exercise. When I am able to exercise consistently, stress is not a problem for me. I think it’s only when one is not able to exercise that I find that stress can become a factor. Just living a balanced life with lots of exercise is the answer for me.