Copyright – Mark Sampson
Getting to Know: Michael Meyer

The Managing Director of The Stillwater Group, Michael Meyer, founded the business in 2000, having earlier studied law at Stellenbosch University and then worked in athlete management for a decade. During this time he says he was “lucky to attend all the great athletics, road running and triathlon events across the globe, which really formed my view of what could be done in South Africa”.

Q: What gap in the industry did you identify?
A: I believed there were two opportunities at that time. First, to use lifestyle sports as a marketing platform, in place of the ‘big three’, which were gobbling up most marketing funds at that time. Second, to offer clients a cost-effective alternative to the massive sponsorship and activation fees that were being charged at the time by the mainstream sports and their agencies. I believed that if I combined these opportunities with creating world-class experiences for lifestyle athletes and enthusiasts, that we could do something special. This still remains our foundation today.

Q: As MD, what do you regard as your primary focus and areas of responsibility?
A: My focus has always been the conceptual side of world-class experience events. I really enjoy creating a sporting property of value, for the sponsor, participant, and the sport itself.

Q: Very briefly, describe the different focus areas of Stillwater Sports, Newsport Media and Stillwater Active – the three businesses in The Stillwater Group?
A: Stillwater Sports houses all the event elements – conceptualisation, creative, development, event management and client management. Newsport Media – all matters media, so TV, photography, digital, and PR. Stillwater Active – the hardcore logistics of event management.

Q: What do you regard as your ‘big break’ in the sports industry or name a client who changed your business?
A: Totalsports (The Foschini Group) was our first big client, and we are still proud to call them a client today. They believed in us when we were starting out with only a dream and heaps of determination. There are many other phenomenal clients with whom we have walked a long road, who have believed and supported our vision over the past 20 years.

Q: What impact has the coronavirus pandemic had on your business?
A: Our core business is mass participation events – a sector of the business that will only return to “normal” activity at the end of this process. So, of course we have been heavily affected, but as a team of sporting entrepreneurs we are inspired to find a new way of working for our sponsors and participants.

Q: How has The Stillwater Group responded and innovated?
A: We decided early on to focus on expanding our core competencies, as opposed to finding a way to do the same thing differently. Our entire team worked hard during lockdown to achieve this. I believe our team has equipped themselves for an excellent next period. With the uncertainty that has surrounded our core business, it’s imperative that we see a road ahead without depending too heavily on traditional events.

Q: Give us a sense of the conversations you’ve had with clients and sponsors of the events The Stillwater Group is involved in?
A: This year has been very interesting. Most of our commercial clients have been most understanding and together we are working on a way through this challenge, that promises a more effective result at the end of the process. Our participating clients have been amazing, supporting our projects and motivating us to once again offer the world-class experiences we have become known for.

Q: Once sport in general is back up and running fully, post-COVID-19, do you anticipate change, in terms of how it is run, consumed, commercialised etc?
A: Yes to all those questions. We believe that the business that does that best in the times ahead, will be well positioned to enter a new and exciting phase of sports sponsorship in SA, and that in future experiential events will deliver a stronger return than ever.

Q: How different do you believe mass participation sports will be, in terms of how competitors will approach them?
A: My personal view is that we will eventually return to events as we know them, and that the uncertainty relates to how long that will take. My view is not shared by many, even by some of my colleagues. It is incumbent on our business to continually plan for various scenarios relating to how these events will look.

Q: Which sports organisations – either local or international – do you believe are getting it right, in terms of marketing and commercialising their product, and why?
A: Internationally, I believe that UFC, World Athletics, English Premier League Football and international golf have really been entertaining to watch. It really boils down to finding a sport interesting to watch despite the lack of spectators.

Q: Where would you like to see The Stillwater Group in 10 years’ time?
A: We are grateful for, and proud of, the successful projects we have been able to complete over the past 20 years. There are many more opportunities that await, and together with corporate sponsors with whom we partner, the sky is the limit. There is no doubt that the structure of our business is changing and collaboration will be a focus area in years to come.

Dylan Rogers
Dylan Rogers

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