Stereotypes are a lot of bull
I couldn’t help but shake my head this week when a cellular giant released another superfan video interviewing that big fellow at Loftus who proudly wears the nose-ring and massive horns on his head.
It wasn’t because of the strange way he supports his team, nor the fact that he likes to go to the stadium and wave his massive flag while looking like that.
It was because of the stereotyping that it personified.
In a week where the Sharks have had to fight off stories that their captain Keegan Daniel was anti-Afrikaans, while the Stormers had to fight off calls for their coach’s resignation, I simply shook my head at the way our rugby lends itself to these archetypes of culture, and how we never seem to question them.
For a while now the Bulls have been telling everyone who would listen how their market research says they have the largest number of fans in the country. They also tell us all that the majority of these fans are black and while they may not have the spending power to be at the games every week, they make up more than 60 percent of their support base.
My argument has been with them that if this is true, then why would you want to alienate your base by concentrating on a stereotype that personifies a negative to so many of your supporters?
Ask any marketer, and they will tell you the true success of a brand is how it shapes the conversation about itself. Take any team and ask yourself, what does your supporter look like?
The obvious answer, which the Bulls have given through their marketing material, is a big brash Afrikaner with horns and a nose ring.
It was underlined this week when one (Cape-based, English) writer referred to Pretoria as “the heart of Afrikanerdom” – despite his own hometown being the largest Afrikaans base in the country.
Whether that is the true reflection of Loftus and its supporters is up for debate, and there is obviously a part here that the Bulls are playing to their support base who spend their money every week at the stadium.
But in the modern sporting environment, and the changing spectrum of the South African consumer, is this the wisest thing to do?
And it isn’t the Bulls alone. To say that picture represents Loftus would be to liken every Cape supporter to the uncouth Cape Crusader bunch that have brought the common denominator to its lowest level in the past few seasons.
It would be to liken every Southern Kings supporter and player to the Watson family, who many people still see as the stereotype for Eastern Cape rugby.
And it would be wrong.
The same way it would be wrong to overreact to the Sharks story in an Afrikaans newspaper this week.
I have no idea what Keegan Daniel’s feelings towards Afrikaners are, or whether such incidents have taken place. My sources tell me there was a fallout, but not over a language issue.
But I also know the reporter long enough to know he wouldn’t thumbsuck such a story without a credible source. And it isn’t a new sensation for the Sharks to suddenly have Afrikaans players. It has been the norm for several seasons now.
The point is, when we stereotype, we do the game a disservice.
Our rugby landscape is as rainbow as the country we live in; there are passionate people across the country who live for and breathe this wonderful game of ours, and who give up their time and often sacrifice a lot more than we know so that we can enjoy rugby at its purest.
I see people from all backgrounds every single week who aren’t defined by their language or culture, and who certainly don’t fit into the stereotypes the marketers want them to be.
They all share a passion for rugby, they all support their teams with fervour, and they all love every try that is being scored.
It is true that we are more than a sum of our parts, and to place supporters in a box would be the worst thing one can do.
Whatever their language, a true supporter doesn’t need to stand out with a nose-ring to be what their team really needs.
It’s time that the marketers learnt that.
To continue the conversation, follow Brenden on twitter @brendennel