Jessica Motaung on Kaizer Chiefs, family businesses & football in SA

Soccer players kicking around a soccer ball from Shutterstock.
Soccer players kicking around a soccer ball from Shutterstock.
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Kaizer Chiefs Brand Manager Jessica Motaung talks to Tim Modise about the history of the Chiefs brand and the experience of being part of a family business. Motaung reckons the game has undergone changes and that the club has more engagements with supporters than ever before. She does say however that the glass-ceiling for women in football is yet to be broken. – Tim Modise

Jessica Motaung, thanks very much for talking to us and joining us here at Biznews on the Transformation section. We appreciate it.

Thanks very much, Tim. I’m glad to be here.

I want to talk about something that is your joy in life, the excitement in the air… Let me start right there – the derby taking place tomorrow – Kaizer Chiefs vs Orlando Pirates. The excitement never stops. How do you prepare for this type of excitement? Pirates and Chiefs have played many times over but people can never get enough of these matters.

They can never get enough and it’s so wonderful to see that the excitement is still there and to see new generations of supporters, but it’s an incredible experience. This morning we’ve had a radio broadcast happening at the village. We have thousands of supporters coming through to an activation that we’re doing at the Kaizer Chiefs village, coming to experience the retail, get the mobile starter packs that we have on offer, sign up for their policies, and just have a great celebration as we finish the season and kick off the new season. Yes, it’s just two brands that when they come together, the supporters/the country…it’s just completely divided. I’m very excited that we’re having the derby. It’s a unique one though, because it also has quite an interesting marketing element to it with Carling and the clubs having come up with the opportunity for supporters to actually, vote in their teams.

The starting line-up was announced this week, so the teams will be facing each other. We’ll have a consumer coach who works with the coach to actually, substitute a player and then we’ll see what happens.

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It’s interesting that football clubs are now referred to as brands, as you’ve just done and you’re responsible for one of the most powerful brands in the country – Kaizer Chiefs – and it has had staying power. It has been in existence for decades now and I wonder. What would you say are the elements that have given Kaizer Chiefs this staying power?

Well Tim, we’re in our 45th year (this year) and I think great leadership through our chairman – he’s such a visionary – and a great team of people who’ve worked with him. Obviously, there’s success. We’ve achieved great success – on and off the field – and that is very important. We’ve won the most trophies in the country and really, our passionate supporters who are constantly showing their love toward the club. One of the most important things is the leadership, the management, how the business is run, and taking it to the next level.

For you as brand manager, you have the responsibility of keeping it alive. It doesn’t just make itself come alive, right?

No, certainly not. When I came in, I decided to bring certain things in-house, build a strong marketing team, and make sure that we keep in touch with innovation, new technologies, and the right partners. I think we’ve also had great partnerships through Vodacom, the likes of Nike, and our partnership with Hollard. We’re choosing partners who understand our vision, understand the long-term investment and where we’re going but also, changing the game. It’s been very important for us as a club, not to focus purely on sponsorships. The sponsorships are there, but you look at the many partnership and they translate into business initiatives as well. With Hollard, it started as a joint venture, then went into them sponsoring the sleeve but we are out there actively selling Kaizer Chiefs funeral policies and legal policies. With Vodacom, it started as a sponsorship and now we have the Kaizer Chiefs sim card.

You can actually, go out and have your Kaizer Chiefs mobile starter pack, so that’s exciting. With Nike, the business is there in terms of replica etcetera, so the model is very different for us. Obviously, we have other sponsors who are part of the fold.

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That’s the commercial side of things, right? There is also the developmental side, which is very important in keeping the brand alive. Can you tell me a bit more about that?

In terms of football or from a brand marketing perspective?

From the brand marketing point of view.

Definitely. One of the things we’ve done is make sure that we refresh the brand constantly. We make sure that we are very clear in terms of our messaging. We are the only club that actually, has a theme in the season. During the last seasons, we’ve had ‘reclaiming the glory’ and ‘inspiring greatness’ and these initiatives and marketing slogans have actually allowed our supporters to be part of this journey with us. It’s not solely about being successful on the field. It’s off the field as well. It’s about stretching the brand and making sure that we can provide the right merchandise, increasing our distribution to make sure the products are available to our supporters, and keeping up with the trends. For example, having the Facebook pages and Twitter, and I’m happy to say we have the largest Facebook page in South Africa (football club, definitely). I think we’re second to the Proteas, whose support base is international.

In terms of South African support, we’re the largest football Twitter page in Africa and it’s lovely to see the brands also coming to engage us because they see the value that we’ve built. It’s about maintaining a cutting edge as well. I have a young team of people who come in there and are very energetic, creating content. One of the things that’s been very important in keeping the brand fresh and accessible is creating content and then going out to our supporters. We activate on the ground all the time.

In terms of football development…

It’s very important to us. We have what we call ‘the Kaizer Chiefs village’ where we are housed. Our offices and the senior team are based there. We recently moved our development academy there. We have put them into new, temporary structures while we build the bigger academy for the future but certainly, it’s very important for us. The business of football is very expensive and you can see the players’ salaries and the price of players, and for us it’s important to nurture young talent and start them early in understanding the Chiefs’ way and so we bring them in, into the senior teams. That is a big focus for us. That is the chairman’s project – to make sure that the development side of our business works, because that is the future of building a very strong team.

I must tell you that times have changed in the country. Football used to be a man’s game and whenever you wanted to know anything about the brand or any aspects of the team, you had to speak to a man. Here you are (as a woman) and it shows how our society has evolved as well, which is a wonderful thing. What perspectives do you think you, as a woman, bring to the brand and the game of football?

Well Tim, I’m fortunate to have been born into a soccer family and I’m passionate about the game. From a female perspective, I give a very holistic view. From a brand point of view – very intuitive. I have a passion for the sport. I understand football so I’m able to understand the softer side of the business as well as the technical side of the business, which is important. Before, there was such a separation between marketing and actual football and with things such as ‘player image rights, etcetera’ that have become very important, one has to know the business totally and I think I bring a different passion. I’ve learned to listen and understand people’s perspectives. The game has changed. You say that and it’s so true because more women are getting into the game. They understand that they have a role to play. If you look at our support base, about 48 percent of our support base is female.

Sometimes it fluctuates and it’s 50 percent female, so women are engaging much more with soccer and I think it brings a different perspective in terms of how the merchandising and product development etcetera, is done as well. Sometimes, I think the guys aren’t open because things have been done a certain way and I think women come in with a more flexible/dynamic approach, and I think it’s complementary.

You do acknowledge the fact that you are part of the family setup and it can bring its own complications with it, right? How difficult (or easy) is it for you to be part of a family business, being the daughter of a legendary figure in Kaizer Motaung?

That’s a very interesting question, Tim. Firstly, it’s such an honour to be part of a family business because as a family, we get to work with each other and spend time with each other. I think that’s wonderful because while growing up, my father was very busy. One didn’t get to see enough of him, so it’s been great that we’re working together now. It certainly has its dynamics because sometimes it’s very difficult to separate. Even at home, during Sunday lunch, you want to talk about work but you want to have personal time, as well. It’s challenging because yes, he is a great legend. He’s done so many great things. It’s tough when you’re pushed back and challenged on new ways of doing things, but I must say he’s very flexible. He’s very understanding and I think that if you have a good leader who’s open to allowing the team around him to grow, that’s very encouraging. It has its dynamics. Sometimes it’s tough because I see my boss at home, but that’s fun as well because our entire family has such a great passion for the business. It’s such a great part of our DNA and its part of who we are.

You know that sport has its own politics (football included) and Kaizer Chiefs does not play against itself. It’s part of the PSL as well as SAFA. Players are sold and bought, etcetera. What have you learned from the politics of football?

Definitely politics. What I’ve learned is that when you come from a place of knowing who you are and the processes that need to be followed, you will be fine. It is about good relationships with people. One of the things that is very clear is that the interest of the game is important. The interests of the league, of the country in terms of SAFA, must be kept right. Many people lose focus on that. For us at Kaizer Chiefs, it’s about how we contribute to making the game a lot better. How do we contribute to making the league a lot better? For us, playing in a good, strong league is far better than just playing in a league, which we alone dominate. It’s about understanding the vision of South African football and aligning it with what we are doing as a club as well, and adding to that vision. It’s been very interesting engaging with SAFA and obviously, engaging at a PSL level.

What I would like to see is much more collaboration and openness at club levels, with clubs sharing and maybe interacting much more around the challenges that we faces. With stadium attendance for example, much more can be done and I think people can share their frustrations and solutions can be arrived at together. There are certainly a lot of politics, but it’s about doing the work. What I’ve learned is that the work and the results are more important, and understanding that we’re also here to serve the public. It’s so important for us to serve our supporters and give back to them.

What is the hardest part of your job? To make it easier for you, you can conclude by telling me the most enjoyable part of the work. Be frank.

Be frank. What is the hardest part of my job? I think the hardest part of my job is creating an understanding between various components of the business, to align and understand that they need to contribute to the higher vision of what we need to do. We are very ‘marketing’ driven in the organisation and the different parts of the organisation are so interdependent but sometimes, it’s very difficult. People think ‘this is football. We’re dealing with this’ and ‘this is finance’, but everything is really integrated. I think it’s about getting everybody to work together collectively and when we do, it’s amazing. Marketing needs the players. The players need marketing. Finance needs marketing so it’s really, about getting everybody to work together. What is the fun part of my job? I think it’s the creative side. Creating so many things that I see people enjoying, whether it’s creating the products that people go out and buy, or creating the TV show and all of that…

Just creating and visually working with the brand has been very exciting and seeing the brand evolve has been incredible. Ultimately, it’s the people. Chiefs’ people are such loving supporters. Today, my morning was absolutely amazing. Spending time with the supporters and engaging with them – that has been the highlight for me.

For young women who might be interested in getting involved in football generally, what would you say to them? Hard, tough job, enjoyable, with many opportunities for them? Has the ceiling been broken?

It’s definitely tough. It’s not an easy environment. It’s a lot of work. I think that many people tend to see the easy side or the complete product where they think it’s all about the glamour and the media. It’s a lot of hard work. It’s important to have a certain strength and knowledge of yourself, to be able to deal with the outside challenges. There are definitely lots of opportunities and I think that if you look at many of the clubs, a lot of women are coming into the game. I’m very excited about that but I think that it is important for people to understand that both men and women are needed in the game because we bring such complementary skills to one another. Has the ceiling been broken? I’m not sure. I’d like to see women sitting in higher places within the PSL structures, the SAFA structures, CAF, and FIFA. I think there’s a lot more to be done in transforming football and allowing women to have a bigger role to play in the bigger structures.

It’s been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you very much.

Thank you.

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