Tue | Apr 7, 2020

Oral Tracey | Jamaica is a unique sports marketplace

Published:Monday | February 17, 2020 | 12:13 AM
Calabar High School’s Kimar Farquarson (left) wins the Class One boys’ 800-metre run on day five of the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships against the backdrop of a packed National Stadium in Kingston on Saturday, March 30, 2019.
Calabar High School’s Kimar Farquarson (left) wins the Class One boys’ 800-metre run on day five of the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships against the backdrop of a packed National Stadium in Kingston on Saturday, March 30, 2019.

The calls for better marketing and promotion of Jamaican sports have become almost nauseating because of their frequency. Our prowess in sports across the spectrum is in absolutely no doubt. Jamaicans generally are athletic, strong, fast, and skilful. We are absolutely brilliant at individual sports, as reflected by our pound-for-pound dominance of world sprinting. Jamaica also has great potential and, indeed, pedigree in international team sports as displayed by our world-ranked netballers, and to a lesser extent our various football teams.

Jamaican sportsmen and women over several generations have flirted with, and in some cases, have achieved brilliance at every level of sport, and in the process we’ve produced an incredible number of world beaters conspicuously disproportionate to our size. It is from this puzzling position and context that these frequent cries have emanated. We need to do more, and do better, at marketing local sports products and our emerging sports stars.

The fact is, though, Jamaica is a unique and unusual marketplace, especially for local sports. It is much easier to sell foreign sporting content to a Jamaican audience than it is to sell local content to the same audience. We have a history of being much more accepting of conventional international marketing methods and products than we have been to the nuances of our local reality.

We have, for example, a very unorthodox football culture, where amateur schoolboy football is still the most popular, best-supported and best-sponsored level of football in the country. This unorthodoxy spills over to the national level, where the support of the general public for the teams fluctuates on a knife’s edge, depending on current results. Traditional norms of loyalty, patriotism, and innate love for the sport are not constant, neither from the fans nor from the sponsors. It is, therefore, almost impossible to plan and execute conventional marketing strategies beyond the schoolboy level.

Athletics is our undisputed flagship international sport, which also has its linchpin in the amateur ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships, popularly known as ‘Champs,’ which is not just the biggest event on the athletics calendar, but is biggest single sporting event in the entire local sporting calendar. This phenomenon of Jamaicans supporting their high-school sporting events more than they support senior and international events renders textbook marketing methods for the top level of these sports all but useless.

COVERT CULTURAL RESISTANCE

Another strange Jamaican dynamic is our covert cultural resistance to the elevation of our fellow natives as stars, explained by our obsession with humility. It is reasonable to presume that this lingering enigma in our psyche prevents us from better maximising the star potential of our sportsmen and women.

Add into the mix the subtle classism that continues to manifest itself in the stigmatisation of certain type of sports as being for a certain class of Jamaicans, while another type of sports is for another class of Jamaicans. This kind of divisive undertone also debilitates against a wholesome exploitation of each other’s collective value and potential.

Add all that uniqueness to the conventional challenges of being a small Third-world nation with a stuttering economy and relatively low levels of disposable income. There are also the obstacles associated with the rapid technological advances, which have totally shifted the dynamics of the market space.

Sport has been great, and will continue to be great, for Jamaica, but as the discourse and exploration continue into how to increase our shares in this multibillion-dollar industry, let us realise, understand, and accept that the Jamaican market space is not a normal market space. It is a space that not just requires, but demands creative, innovative, and non-traditional marketing strategies.