With only days to go to the kickoff of the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, and President Zuma assuring the world that “all system are in place to make the Confederations Cup a huge success”, what are the key touch-points that will convert visitors to brand advocates for destination South Africa and maximise the national brand equity?

Blatter’s verdict

As FIFA President Sepp Blatter pointed out in an interview with Austrian state broadcaster ORF in June 2008, the Confederations Cup is the “ultimate test run” for the 2010 host. In other words, this tournament is all about demonstrating SA’s readiness to the world – to send out a strong message that the stadia, infrastructure and people are ready to deliver what President Zuma called in his inaugural address “a world class event that will forever change the perceptions of the international community”.

This begs the question, what are the single most important touch-points for changing the perceptions of the international community? And what are the key benchmarks from previous Confed Cup hosts that will determine the success rate of this year’s edition?

2005 scorecard

A comparative review of the 2005 Confederations Cup, held in Germany, revealed the following:

  • Security: The highest item on the 2005 Confed Cup agenda was security. It was none other than the chairman of the German LOC, Franz Beckenbauer, who promised to make the 2006 event “the safest world cup of all times”.In particular, the threat of hooligans and neo-nazis disrupting the 2005 dress-rehearsal loomed large in the mind of the organisers, seeing that a number of xenophobic incidents had made headlines in the run-up to the tournament (see Marc Young on “My train ride with the Nazis”).
  • Streaking: Much to the embarrassment of the German LOC, the 2005 Confederations Cup saw four instances of streaking during the tournament’s 16 games, in full view of the world’s broadcast, each of them targeting their favorite hero such as Ronaldinho and Lehmann.”You can’t assume these so-called streakers will always have peaceful intent,” said Wolfgang Niersbach, VP of the organising committee. “We don’t want to imagine, for example, what would happen if one had a knife,” referring to the dreaded incident back in 1993 when a crazed spectator attacked tennis player Monica Seles with a knife, suspending her career in a moment of madness.
  • Customer care: A close second to safety was the imperative to take care of every conceivable need of the single most important Confed Cup Customers – the visiting teams and especially their highly revered top stars, such as Ronaldinho and Messi, who are known for having such universal appeal amongst their global following that their brand advocacy is worth their weight in gold.The residence of the Brazilian team, for instance, Schlosshotel Lerbach, situated in the Bergian forests, had a special purpose satellite antenna installed by Vodafone to guarantee constant network availability for the members of the seleção.

2009 scorecard

  • Brand advocacy: Seeing that only 15 000 visitors are expected – in other words, about 3% of the 450 000 projected for 2010 – the overall majority of whom are media and team delegations – it will be the experience that these two key stakeholders will take away to their home countries that will inform what FIFA TV director Niclas Ericson called “the impression that will stay with the international community until the World Cup next year”.
  • Reversing perceptions: Clearly, the most urgent touch-point of SA’s international brand image are the perceptions about the high crime levels associated with the host country. At a recent visit to Cape Town, Germany’s sport journalist of the year (2008), Jens Weinreich, concluded that “if I try to summarise the German media coverage of South Africa, I have the impression that it is dominated by five points: violence, violence, violence, corruption and political instability.”
  • Zero incident tournament: That is why the single most important benchmark for delivering President Zuma’s promise of making the Confed Cup “a huge success” is to ensure an incident-free tournament; in other words, devoid of major acts of crime against visitors. This sentiment was echoed by FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke, who stated on the occasion of the FIFA preliminary draw held on 25 November 2007, that “it could be a disaster and a nightmare if something happens to someone during the Confederations Cup or the World Cup”.
  • Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system: To transport the estimated three million fans who will attend matches in 2010, local and international alike, the hosting cities are relying on the completion of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, with dedicated lanes for intercity buses, a system vehemently opposed by the local taxi industry. Fearing the possible loss of 100 000 taxi licences, taxi operators have been vowing to kill any bus system that would cost jobs or squeeze them out of business.Said Ralph Jones, spokesperson of the United Taxi Association Forum, “It seems that the only language that anyone understands is when we go on strike… We are saying no to the BRT. We are restraining our people now, but you can’t control angry people forever. That’s when it becomes dangerous… People could do anything. They could go to court, they could go on strike, they could do anything to disrupt.”Earlier this week, the City of Johannesburg agreed to postpone the BRT implementation until August – according to Geoffrey York, SA correspondent of the Globe and Mail, “a big victory for the taxi drivers and a major setback for the transit plan, which needs a test run in an international tournament.” Resolution of the BRT system before the end of the Confederations Cup is critical for reassuring the international media that 2010 visitors do not need to worry about their transport plans.
  • Fan centricity: The fans being the ultimate clients of sporting tournaments, in this case the hosting nation need to be fully engaged. Judging from experience, this will only be possible if the hosting team proceeds to the semifinals, at the least.

In conclusion, the 2009 Confederations Cup Branding Scorecard will be determined by the experience of the visiting stakeholders, these being the international media and teams alike, and requires what former President Mandela called the task of nation branding when he said that change “needs unity of purpose. It needs action. It requires us all to work together to… build a nation united in our diversity.”