Ok, so I am the last of the great rugby fans. I watched the World Cup Final because, well, South Africa was in it and it was one of those Done Things. I even recorded the match on my PVR in case friends of ours missed it for some reason. I was really glad SA managed to win the game and even had a hint of a tear at the end when everyone was hoisting the cup. I felt bad for Jake White because it seemed to me that he was a guy who worked his butt off to help get the team where they were and he was unceremoniously ditched just a couple weeks later. I even remember the photo in the paper of a lonely figure leaving a press conference.
It turns out that Jake White is no slouch when it comes to making hay while the sun shines. Henre Rossouw has a very interesting perspective on White’s business activities including his recently published book, "In Black and White":
Amidst the furor of his current book and the mud slinging between SA Rugby bosses, the president’s council and South African rugby supporters, what exemplified him even more was his immaculate strategy and timing of the launch of “In Black and White”.
For what can only be described as a marketer’s wet dream is the perfect timing with which the word on his scathing attack on SA Rugby and the much maligned spat between himself and the Watson family transpired in his book.
The Springboks were barely crowned the new champions of the world when excerpts have been “leaked” by the media.The Springboks were not even on the plane to Wales for the final test match of a hugely successful season when he was a guest on television’s Carte Blanche where he made no small effort in spilling the beans on some of the hottest and controversial topics in SA Rugby history.
Timing in marketing and publicity is everything. A successfully timed campaign reaps benefits way beyond the imagination of the most perverse publicists.
Henre goes on to talk about how White leveraged his reputation for his personal benefit and I wonder if that is such a bad thing. Is success in sport only ok if it is achieved with no commercial motivation in mind? Fans may feel a little uneasy at just how blatantly White exploited his fame, achievements and inside knowledge to make a go at it with his book and other activities. Rugby, at least to the uninformed me, seems to have a strong commercial and political undercurrent and it is very much a case of eat or be eaten. It would have been naive to expect White to just walk away and go teach high school rugby somewhere in the lowveld. Of course he is going to exploit his achievements, why shouldn’t he?
Aside from the commercial stuff, I think a little expose of what goes on behind the scenes is a good thing for SA Rugby, however controversial. A number of people lamented the politics that seemed to mire SA Rugby down even as the team marched on towards a tremendous victory. Interestingly enough, many of those same people remain fanatically loyal, despite the politics, and that says a lot for the good stuff in SA Rugby, arguably the important stuff.
Henre made another excellent observation although I don’t share his seemingly pessimistic view of White:
White says in his book that he “always knew that South African rugby was riddled with people who had no interest in the game, only on what they could siphon from it.”
Bold words from a man who has checkmated millions of people with the exact same strategy.
I see this is a case of making the most of his strong points and those include his fame, positioning and achievements. Perhaps the more palatable thing would have been to retire to some lowveld high school to teach a new generation of kids but why shouldn’t he choose a more profitable path instead.