Rugby isn’t the same as it was 20, or even 10, years ago. COVID-19 had also left a profound impact on sport. Such are the changes that the Sharks’ competition isn’t always facing them on the rugby pitch on Saturday afternoons. Instead, this team competes against other industries and entertainment for screen time and luxury spending.

The radical change of this sport and its business model has left the field of play leaner and stronger – and more diverse, inclusive, and innovative. Stadium tickets, boerewors rolls, and beers no longer generate the income streams rugby franchises can rely upon.

Disruption. Innovation. Inclusivity. Transformation. These aren’t bywords or fads at Hollywoodbets Kings Park – better known as the Shark Tank. Those are the codes of the culture at the Sharks Rugby Union.

“Without a strategy that firmly underpins the solutions for innovation and transformation, a business can run backwards; you go to innovation for a purpose and a reason, not for the sake of innovation and change,” said Dr Eduard Coetzee, CEO of the Sharks Rugby Union. “Even in COVID-19, we grew our sponsorship revenue by 55-percent by restructuring our business model. We kept in line with transformation and stretched our business. We try to push our boundaries positively to be progressive.

Beyond the Game
Dr Coetzee believes that innovation can only happen in an innovative environment. This develops from encouraging discussion and inspiring creativity. It makes the Sharks more desirable to corporate sponsors and players alike. It’s most beautifully demonstrated by the Sharks’ innovative ‘I See Colour’ movement. From Dr Coetzee: “We’re not all the same. We must stop trying to be the same. Our strength is actually in our diversity.”

The ‘I See Colour’ movement celebrates the colours, stories, and backgrounds of its players, staff, and management. It is a belief that celebrating diversity brings racial inclusion into the spotlight as a force for good and not as a punishment. South Africa is blessed with a diverse community – everyone has a colour. The ‘I See Colour’ movement is a lens through how we see the world and how we treat each other.

For the Sharks, this is more than a marketing campaign, it’s a movement. Every player on the pitch earned his place by merit. That most of the squad is made up of players of colour highlights the depth of talent in South Africa, however, this is yet to be fully untapped. In the high stakes world of elite sports and professional athletes, winning is the only metric by which they are measured. However, the Sharks’ ‘I See Colour’ movement has subverted that. Transformation has become the measure of their success: the more inclusive and diverse their team is, the greater their dedication to their mission of transformation. From this, their squads will grow deeper in talent and continue their on-pitch successes.

Beyond the Pitch
Behind the scenes at the Shark Tank, the next phase of the players’ lives are shaped. The Sharks Entrepreneurship Academy is an innovative programme with a mission to assist players in transitioning from the pitch into an established and sustainable economic future. This educational development initiative equips players with the tools to run their businesses, while also helping them source the franchise, finance, and putting a management team in place to oversee the business until the players move on to the next chapter of their lives.

Beyond the Sport
The Sharks Business Centre is another such outlet for its mission of social change. During the peak of COVID-19, it opened a hot-desking space designed for use by previously disadvantaged people. This business centre is equipped with high-speed Internet access, boardrooms, printers, copiers, computers, stationery, and more. It operates on an application process: it is open to formal students, unemployed people, members of previously disadvantaged communities. Corporate business partners sponsor the business centre and there is no cost to the user. Today, it is a thriving business hub.

The Sharks are not only one of the most racially transformed rugby teams in South Africa, but one of the most transformative and progress in sport. Full stop.

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