MVP takes on new meaning for South Africa rugby hero Bryan Habana

Two years since the flying winger retired from the sport, the World Cup winner has shifted his focus onto a new business venture and its related jargon

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Back in the glorious pomp of his playing career, the letters “MVP” meant something entirely different to Bryan Habana.

The flying wing from South Africa knew all about what it meant to be a most valuable player.

He did that often enough. Like in 2007, when he was the most celebrated player in South Africa’s World Cup-winning side, leading to him being named the world player of the year.

His successes made him valuable off the field, too, as he became one of the most bankable players in the sport.

Two years into retirement, though, its meaning has altered somewhat. Now it refers to a “minimum viable product”.

Which is commerce jargon for a product being taken to market that is workable enough to satisfy its early customers, but will likely be developed pending feedback.

Habana, 36, is in the throes of rolling out a new digital platform that will help athletes develop their personal brands.

After a 15-year pro career, which brought him 124 caps and 67 tries for his country, it makes sense he would be au fait with what the athletes require.

But what about the other side of the business? The digital marketing, the MVPs, and all the other jargon? It might be a surprise to know he is pretty comfortable with all that, too.

“Did I know, two years ago, what MVPs, ROIs, and all that stuff is about? Probably a little bit,” Habana, who currently lives in Cape Town, said.

“One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t complete my degree back in 2001 to 2003. Looking back now, I should have.”

Habana had started an IT degree before switching to focus on rugby. All told, that was probably not the worst decision anyone has ever made.

He says he has “always been a tech geek,” while his business partner in his new project, his former schoolmate Mike Sharman, says Habana was “the absolute academic nerd at school”.

Had rugby not worked out, “I’m pretty sure I’d have been in the digital marketing space anyway,” Habana said.

“I love working with people. I wouldn’t have been sat behind a computer coding necessarily, but the interactivity from a marketing perspective, particularly digitally, would have interested me.”

The timing of their launch for is telling. The effects of coronavirus are likely to be vast and lasting on sport.

Sharman quotes a figure of $61 billion (Dh221bn) as being the deficit world sport could face in the fall out of the pandemic.

The cuts in rugby are already being felt. Players in the competitions in which Habana used to thrive have seen their wages cut, and many admin staff having lost their jobs entirely.

Some leagues around the world might not be able to sustain professionalism in the new environment.

It could prompt a return to the days when players had to keep other jobs in order to supplement their incomes.

Sharman suggests the new platform, which “consolidates athletes digital presence” could be just the sort of promotion they might require now.

And not just the big stars, it is “for those guys who aren’t as naturally marketable, they can also commercialise and professionalise their brands,” Sharman said.

Habana says players have never had a better chance than now to promote themselves, and says their new product can take the hassle out of doing so even for players outside of the main glare of the limelight.

“We can’t be stuck in the pre social-media age,” Habana said. “Time has evolved. Players need to take hold of their opportunity to empower themselves.

“When we went to the World Cup in 2007, I remember we were trying to see who could get the most Facebook friends requests.

“There is a big difference to how you can now own your online presence. Sixteen or 17 years ago when I started, you just had to toe the line. Podcasts were the furthest thing from anyone’s mind – even in 2011 or 2015.

“For people to make podcasts, and make their own individual presence, has become increasingly important. You get to create longevity, both in your career and post it.”

And Habana believes the ability to get a message out is vital for players, and goes beyond commercial benefits.

“Players do have a voice,” Habana said, in reference to protests in the United States following the death of George Floyd.

“Some have stronger views than others, and some feel more able to voice their opinion on things that are close to their heart.

“I would definitely have voiced my opinion [had he still been playing now], like I have done.

“Sometimes, silence is deafening. As an athlete, you have opportunity to use your platform to voice your opinion, whether it is right or wrong.

“It is sometimes difficult to be in a position of popularity. People tend to lean on you to see what you would do.

“But I would have voiced my opinion, especially given our history in South Africa.

“In 28 years since coming out of apartheid, we have had first-hand experience about that.

“The type of protests we have seen are debilitating for a country, but people are voicing their opinions.

"This is something that has come about over the course of a very long time.”