AXA Banner

M any automotive events have lost their long-running sponsors in recent times. The latest event to fall victim of this sad trend is the International Sasol Rally, which was a round of the African Rally Championship. Most of the sponsors withdrew after 20-30 years, which ties in with the theory of the so-called 30-year business cycle.

Sasol, which had sponsored what was a premier event in the South African Rally Championship for 25 years (1991-2016). Strangely the Castrol Rally, which also achieved international renown with a host of famous name overseas competitors, was also sponsored for 25 years (1971-1996).

Other events that have lost Castrol sponsorship over the years were Castrol Clubman’s racing (32 years) and the Castrol Winterberg Enduro for motorcycles (36 years from 1978-2011).  Castrol also sponsored the Toyota motorsport team for more than 40 years, before that partnership ended in 2015.

Total is another petroleum company that has been a loyal automotive sponsor over many years, but even it has ended support for long-running events such as the Total Rally, Total Tara Rally (in Namibia) and Total Economy Run.

Now it seems cracks are appearing in the plaster of the SA Guild of motoring Journalists’ Car of the Year competition which has enjoyed sponsorship from WesBank for the 31 years since its inception in 1986. What happened is that Mazda SA refused to take part for a variety of reasons. This is the first time this has happened, although Mercedes-Benz declined to provide cars for evaluation several years ago, but then reluctantly complied when the organisers said they would hire cars to test.

This time Mazda SA’s retiring MD, Dave Hughes, stuck to his guns and kept his car – the Mazda CX3 – away from the jury members.

When one looks at these major automotive events that have come and gone then one thing that is obvious is that most of them were founded in the days of apartheid and sanctions. They provided a powerful means of boosting a sponsors’ products through motorsport in South Africa (sponsorship of major rallies and races for both two-and four-wheelers) as well as the motor industry (Car of the Year and Total Economy Run).

Motorsport did not have the stringent international political boycott that shackled major sports such as rugby, soccer, and cricket so enthusiasts could enjoy many major international events – including rounds of world championships – as well as having a host of top flight individual competing in local events with some of them being signed up by local factory teams to rally or race for a full season.

However, times have changed and some sponsors have moved on. The so-called “Golden Years” of motorsport are now becoming just memories.

As Sasol said in its media release announcing the end of substantial financial support for the Sasol Rally: “As in any business, Sasol has re-evaluated various sponsorship properties and made the decision to refocus efforts and resources in a different direction within motorsport in South Africa.

“Following the realignment of the company’s marketing and communications objectives in motorsport, it has been decided to terminate the Sasol Rally sponsorship,” said Christopher Kabosha, Sasol senior manager: marketing and public affairs.

When chatting about the withdrawal of long-running sponsors with my old friend, Andries van der Walt, who headed up Total’s public relations department for many years, he said that the value of these sponsorships had also been eroded by a multitude of disrupters over the years. Here he mentioned the arrival of the internet and social media, DSTV with its wide sports bouquet and the growth in outdoor activities such as mountain bike riding.

The environment in which marketers, public relations practitioners and event promotions teams operate nowadays means they must be proactive and quick to change tack when necessary, as well as having a host of comparatively new media technologies to get a sponsors’ message across.