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Betway SA20 commissioner and former Proteas men’s captain Graeme Smith. Picture: Betway
Betway SA20 commissioner and former Proteas men’s captain Graeme Smith. Picture: Betway

Graeme Smith was the ultimate competitor on the field. The former Proteas men’s captain always pushed himself and his team to the limit. It should therefore not have been a surprise that when Smith transitioned from the dressing room to the boardroom, he would bring that same competitive streak with him.

This irrepressible force and his unrelenting passion for South African cricket  is what drives him every day in his role as Betway SA20 commissioner. And, like a true leader, Smith has put together a team of exceptional individuals who have wholeheartedly bought into the vision of making the country’s premier domestic T20 League “the biggest league outside India”.

 Betway SA20 commissioner Graeme Smith's vision is to make the country's premier domestic T20 League 'the biggest league outside India'

Much like his captaincy, which was thrust on him at only 23 years old, Smith’s habit of turning everything he touches into gold is already materialising. 

Betway SA20 season 1 was an extraordinary success story. It reinvigorated the spirit of cricket within SA with spectators packing out the six stadiums around the country. 

This was not achieved by chance. Smith and his team identified critical role players in the South African sporting landscape, and none was bigger than local television broadcaster SuperSport.

“It was a proud moment to get the league off the ground, to have the right people in the room ready to sign off on the vision. We built a shareholding outside the federation for the first time ever, with Cricket SA still being the majority as the licensee of cricket in the country. But it was a really strong broadcast deal with SuperSport that formed the base of building the product,” said Smith. 

“The support from the biggest broadcaster in Sub-Saharan Africa is huge. Without its expertise, start-up help, and the commercials on the broadcast, we wouldn’t have a product to take to the market.”

Next step as team owners was to “attract the right type of partners” with the objective to maintain the long-term financial viability of the league. Enter six Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises looking to extend their global footprint.

“It was a huge milestone for us to be able to attract the six IPL teams that won the bid to be a part of Betway SA20 and that, for me, was kind of the next big stepping stone in the building of the project,” Smith said.

“The six franchises are huge business entities, and they bring 15 years of premium franchise experience working in the IPL. They bring an incredible business ability, which increases the standard of the cricket and level of administration through the personnel they bring. How they operate is brilliant.”

With all six teams owned by its IPL affiliate, the profitability and market share that was now available to Betway SA20 had no limitations, particularly after a deal was negotiated with Indian broadcaster Viacom. 

“Viacom’s investment in the league was groundbreaking. We were the first cricket property it invested in. Since then, it has acquired Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) rights, IPL rights and various other content, and its platform has grown immensely,” Smith said. 

“We are the first league that has stand-alone broadcast in the world: most of the time, it gets thrown into the federation’s bilateral deal and it gets bundled in there. For the first time ever, people started to back a stand-alone entity outside India, which was SA20.

“I remember signing the contract in Dubai and being over the moon; it just set us up as a league in an incredible way. As a partner, Viacom is at the forefront of the digital future and to learn from the broadcaster and be able to access the way it thinks about these things really does help us, in SA, to be at the forefront of global thinking.”

Smith is fully aware that Betway SA20 is first and foremost a Proudly South African product, but with the clear objective of contributing towards making a significant financial impact on SA's economy.

Betway SA20 season 1 contributed R4.1bn to SA's GDP
Economic impact assessment, commissioned by SA20

An economic impact assessment, commissioned by the league, highlighted the positive impact the 33-match competition had on GDP, household income, employment and direct expenditure. Here are some of the key findings: 

  • R1.4bn direct expenditure into SA;
  • 8,223 annualised employment opportunities created;
  • R4.1bn contributed to SA's GDP; and
  • R958m contributed to household income.

Smith, though, is fully aware these objectives cannot be achieved and further improved on in season 2 without the support of the partnerships formulated with the local corporate sector.

“Going back to season 1, Betway came in as our title partner, and finding partners that want to come in at that level and back a product is never easy when you don’t have a case study. As a partner, a lot of their activations were a huge success of season 1. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with them,” Smith said.

“For season 2, we have acquired some exciting key strategic partnerships which will also elevate the overall fan experience at the stadiums and for those watching at home, or on their devices on the road.

“Rain is a fantastic partner; it's innovative and it's growing. It's a newer telco in SA and has learnt to be agile and dynamic. The tech side is huge for us, connectivity in stadium is important along with looking at opportunities that are aligned with the way sport is viewed globally. 

“Castle Lite is also a new partner and we’re very excited about this collaboration. It's a huge entity, it brings the lite side to life, and will bring immense value to the fan experience in the stadium as well.”

Betway SA20 season 2 is now under way; visit SA20.co.za for more information, match highlights and to purchase tickets to upcoming matches around SA. 

This article was sponsored by Betway.

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