When it comes to athletes personal branding in Botswana, it is safe to say no athlete comes close to the veteran 400m runner Isaac Makwala.
From extraordinary performances, the solo run and catchy soundbites, Makwala has provided some highlights for all during his soon to end running career. He is currently the country’s most easily recognisable athlete.
As an athlete, he is one of the most disciplined of athletes, always dedicated to his craft. No wonder the athlete has attracted to himself some sponsorship deals. He boasts Nike and Capital Motors among his sponsors.
In a country like Botswana where sponsorship does not come by easily, having a reputable company like Capital Motors as a sponsor is no easy feat. This by far qualifies the veteran runner as someone who young athletes can look up to.
Now as he enters the home straight of his career, Makwala has a few notes of advice for upcoming athletes. “Nothing comes easy,” the athlete says. He says local athletes need to take their brands and performances seriously if they want doors to open for them.
The Solo runner says his current sponsorship deals did not come on a silver platter. He had to persistently work for them both on the negotiation table and on the track. He says even at the peak of his career when the world wanted a share of him, companies in Botswana rejected his request for sponsorship multiple times.
“I approached about five companies for sponsorships but they all rejected me. For capital motors, I followed them up for about three years and on the fourth year they agreed to sponsor me,” Makwala narrates. He says according to them, they studied more than his performance but character and behaviour mostly.
“They wanted to ensure it will be a good invest on their side. I had bought a car from them and they considered that I would come back and buy another one and also bring buyers through the advertisement considering my social media following. They tried to figure out my followers and if they have the capability to buy cars from them. It took a lot of convincing from my side mostly because they are not from Botswana. But I am grateful they decide to take a risk on me,” he says.
Because of this, he urges athletes to work more on their brand and talent to secure international sponsorships. “For athletes like Letsile Tebogo and Collen Kebinatshipi who are still young, they just have to focus more on their craft. That way, they will easily get international sponsors. It is really easy to get an international sponsor than in Botswana. They understand sport more than our people and with good times it will be easy for them to secure sponsorships. This also goes to any athlete in any sporting code,” Makwala says.
While at it, he believes political will is needed to make the ground fertile for companies and corporates to sponsor athletes. Makwala notes that government is not pushing companies to sponsor and help grow sport.
“I will use South Africa as an example. Their government has an incentive for companies who sponsor sport and or athletes in the form of tax relief. This has made many companies put their money in sport just to cut on tax payment. If our government can adopt the same strategy, a handful of companies will come on board to offer help to athletes because tax in Botswana is high,” he explains.
Makwala says companies should also try to look into endorsing well performing athletes and even teams as their ambassadors or face of their brands if sponsorship is a hard thing to do.
“Companies are afraid of taking risks and sponsorship in sport is all about risk taking. Through the idea of making athletes ambassadors, the risk will be less and maybe this thing of companies showing up on the eve of big tournaments offering certain amounts of monies might be reduced,” he says.
“I am always open to guiding athletes on the right path to take when it comes to branding and also acquiring deals. I try by all means to show them support and tell them to surpass my achievements while they are still young,” concludes Makwala.