The internet has gifted us the savage streets of Twitter and Instagram. Some local heroes who have found ways to harness its power to earn big.
The social media era has been a gift and a curse for football stars worldwide. Unfortunately, in the social media space, there’s nowhere to hide on and off the field, which can make or break players.
With more than 315 million followers on Instagram, Juventus and Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo is the most followed individual in the world on a list that includes film star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and musicians Ariana Grande and Beyoncé.
Football is the biggest sport in the world and in South Africa, so it’s no surprise that footballers are often at the top of the country’s social media trending list. But it’s not always for a good reason – their bloopers and blunders on the pitch are the juice that often fuels online trolls.
Recently, Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune was mocked for his attempted save during a penalty shoot-out in his team’s MTN8 quarterfinal defeat to Mamelodi Sundowns.
The goalie from Ventersdorp, North West, delivered another meme with his one leg stretched out in a futile attempt to stop a spot kick from his Sundowns counterpart Kennedy Mweene.
Despite being constantly ridiculed on socials, Khune takes the criticism in his stride and often plays along.
THE NUMBERS GAME
In this era of influencers, football stars are among the biggest influencers in the world. Social media can help raise the profile of a player, and some have been able to monetise their popularity.
For years, Khune has been the darling of South African football and this explains why he is the undisputed social media king locally. The 34-year-old stopper has a staggering 2.2 million followers across Twitter and Instagram. He appeals to a wide audience thanks to his long and illustrious career.
Former Mamelodi Sundowns striker Percy Tau comes second with 793 000 followers – 491 000 on Twitter and 302 000 on Instagram.
Tau, who has just joined Egyptian giants Al Ahly from English side Brighton & Hove Albion, has somewhat of a cult following on the Twitter streets. When the Bafana Bafana talisman joined Brighton in 2018, the club had a spike in followers and South Africans flooded the Seagulls’ Twitter timeline.
The same happened when he joined Royale Union Saint-Gilloise on loan, Club Brugge in 2019 and Anderlecht last year.
His legion of followers would demand the administrative managers behind the clubs’ social media account to post anything and everything Tau. More South Africans are sure to follow him to Al Ahly.
Former Bafana and Chiefs midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala is also well liked, with 750 000 followers across Twitter (270 000) and Instagram (488 000).
Erstwhile Chiefs midfielder George Lebese also has a steady online audience, commanding 681 000 followers in total, while Orlando Pirates’ Thembinkosi Lorch sits on 530 000 followers across Twitter and Instagram.
Not surprisingly, Zimbabwean midfielder Willard Katsande is another fan favourite. The former Chiefs hardman’s entertaining dance videos and swaggy dress sense have increased his popularity on social media, especially last year during the hard lockdown, when he had followers eating out of the palm of his hand. Katsande has a little more than 500 000 followers from Twitter (331 000) and Instagram (188 000).
He recently left Chiefs to join premiership novices Sekhukhune United.
Influencers generate income from social media by collaborating with brands, and companies looking to sell their products pay influencers to share their products and/or services with their followers.
Ronaldo is the highest-paid celebrity on Instagram. According to a number of outlets that measure the market value of celebrities, the 36-year-old makes $1.6 million (R23 million) per post.
Influencer and social media expert Bonolo Twala says that local influencers can make anything from small change to R1 million for a campaign.
“There are different scales in the social media space. Influencers can make as little as a few hundred rand for campaigns or per post, especially from smaller clients...[while] the biggest influencers in the country make hundreds of thousands,” says Twala.
“It really depends on a number of factors. But the social media influencer space is an industry on its own; many influencers are making a good living from social media alone.”
A study by UK media company Hopper HQ claimed that popular influencer Mihlali Ndamase makes as much as R25 000 per social media post. Khune often used to post DanUp on his social media platforms while Lorch often shares Puma products.
THE IMAGE RIGHTS
The legal definition of image rights is “the right for any commercial or promotional purpose to use a player’s name, nickname, slogan and signatures...image, likeness, voice, logos, get-ups, initials, team or squad number”.
For brands to collaborate with a player, they would need to first come to an agreement with the player and their club.
According to research conducted by City Press, clubs usually enter into an image rights contract that is separate from the main player contract. The image rights contract gives permission to the club to use the player’s image and likeness for commercial purposes.
Image rights can be a once-off payment to the player or an upfront payment and then a percentage is paid per endorsement deal.
Renowned sports agent Mike Makaab explains that image rights deals are structured on a case-by-case basis.
“The top athletes attach a value to their image and autograph. That would be a separate contract that the player and coach enter into. It takes into consideration the sponsorship agreements the club has, and limits players from doing endorsements deals with a company that may be a competitor of the club,” Makaab says.
“Each image rights contract is different and is structured differently. Sometimes the player and club split a percentage on the endorsements the player receives and, at other times, the club has full rights to the player’s image rights. So it really depends on what is agreed on.”
The relevance of footballers in pop culture is indubitable. In 2019, record producers Kabza De Small and DJ Maphorisa released a smash hit amapiano track called Lorch, about the Pirates forward. Carling Black Label, which sponsors Pirates, is featured in the music video, which shows Lorch scoring against Chiefs in the Carling Black Label Cup. This is an example of a player’s image rights being used by a brand. The music video has 3.6 million views on YouTube.
TECHNOLOGY IS THE WAY TO GO
Technology and new media platforms have changed the world, and football is no exception. Unlike before, players no longer depend solely on their monthly salaries for money because they also generate an income from their image rights.
It is all about who uses technology to their best advantage. Those who box cleverly can even benefit after retirement. Some retired players thrive due to their lasting commercial appeal. This should go a long way towards reducing the trend of players losing everything after they have hung up their boots.