What will hosting the 2010 Soccer World Cup achieve for South Africa in particular and Africa in general? There are of course the usual projections: new infrastructure, thousands of extra jobs, a welcome cash injection when an estimated million or more soccer fans descend on the country, etc.
“But the most significant gain,” said Professor Dr Wolfgang Maennig of the University of Hamburg, “will be what I call the ‘feel-good’ factor”.
He was speaking at a seminar arranged by the Goethe Institute, and Scholz and Friends, a consultancy that advises companies on their corporate social responsibility policies.
I had been invited to make the keynote address at the seminar in Berlin, which was aimed at German companies keen to use the 2010 event, and the vast global audiences it would draw, to put their best public face forward.
These companies – there are over 600 German companies in South Africa – were anxious about stepping on culturally sensitive toes. My task was to run them through the ethnic, cultural and social make-up of modern South Africa and advise them on what was desirable, what was acceptable and what wasn’t.
Other presentations, all thoroughly researched, followed mine but I was arrested by Professor Maennig’s paper:
Managing the feel-good factor.
To be honest, I had never really thought about this aspect of the World Cup – perhaps taken it for granted that people would naturally feel good about staging one of the two biggest sporting events in the calendar.
Professor Maennig, who won an Olympic gold medal in rowing, has made a thorough study of the subject, based on information collected after the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He told us that many of the benefits that were expected had in fact proved disappointing.
There had not been a huge increase in tourism revenue because ‘normal’ tourists had simply been replaced by ‘football’ tourists. Instead of brisker business in restaurants and bars, business actually fell in some cases because people were too busy watching the football to go out.
While the sale of team kits and football memorabilia had gone up, the expected rise in general merchandise sales had disappointed because people were spending all their money on accommodation, transport and fast food.There were gains, to be sure, and some companies made killings but overall, the financial benefits that had been projected had not materialised to the levels expected.
Nevertheless, Professor Maennig contended, the tournament had been a huge success for the German people because of the feel-good factor it generated.
In the first instance, the tournament provided Germany with a tailor-made opportunity to re-brand the country. He quoted the Anholt Nation Brands Index: “Germany, whose erstwhile image abroad was hard and cold – not a nation much associated with warmth, hospitality, beauty, culture or fun – improved its image through the World Cup in all 17 criteria that constitutes the Anholt Nation Brand Index”.
The whole nation, Professor Maennig told us, was involved in this enterprise. While not everybody was involved in the organisation or the business aspect of the event, everyone could, and often did, go out of their way to be warm, friendly and hospitable. The stereotypical German aloofness and hostility to foreigners seemed to disappear. The Germans opened their hearts to the world and the world responded positively.
“The greatest benefit was to the German people themselves,” the Professor said. “Suddenly, by accepting the world, they felt accepted. They became part of a global enterprise which was happening on their home soil. It was a tremendous feeling.”
The experiences in the stadiums were also exceptional. Instead of the usual German crowds, there were people from all sorts of different cultures, nations, backgrounds. The kaleidoscope of emotions and ways of expressing emotion added a new range of experience to the German people.
The huge free television parks, first introduced during the Korea/Japan World Cup, also created a thrilling new experience. It was a combination of the feeling that you were simultaneously watching a game live in a ‘stadium’ and also watching television. This, combined with the easy mixing of people from all parts of the world, created a unique and very positive feeling.
The feel-good factor was greatly enhanced by the performance of the German national team which, before the tournament, had been written off as the worst side ever. As it turned out, the team played superbly and finished third. More importantly, the players won new admirers all over the world with their clean play and sportsmanlike behaviour.
The Germans were aware that the eyes of the world were on them and took the opportunity to show their best side. It united the people in pursuit of a goal greater than their individual needs. “There was also a feeling of great pride that the country had pulled off such a mega event so well. It did wonders for the self-confidence of the people.”
Corporate sponsors, who focused on social responsibility themes rather than product promotion, reported excellent feedback. The feel-good emotions had transferred to their products and some were living off that for years.
Come 2010, will South Africa be able to generate this invaluable emotion? Will it manage it?