Sean Van Staden
Columnist
3 minute read
6 Dec 2015
7:00 am

It’s tough to make money out of your passion

Sean Van Staden

Which sport do you think you can make a career out of playing in South Africa?

It is a fantastic time of year and ’tis the season to be jolly because the Nedbank Golf Challenge is upon us. Remember back in the days when they called it the “Million Dollar”?

I am sure everyone thought it was a lot of money. Try a total prize money of $6.5 million for 30 golfers. To put it into perspective that is roughly R91 million in prize money, which means even the player who comes last has something to smile about.

If you are a mom or dad thinking about which sport you should direct your child in to start playing, then golf has got to be right up with the best of them. The question parents should be asking is what sport will yield a career and a decent income.

Some sports have a higher degree of risk and injury associated to them while others are specialised crafts and not accessible to everyone. Golf could be the perfect dream job, if you can make the cut.

In 2014 Ernie Els – The Big Easy earned a whopping $2.3 million in course prize money, but he made five times more or $10 million off the course with some great sponsors and endorsements.

This brought the Big Easy’s total earnings to $12.3 million, or if you really want to know the rand terms, is R173 million for the year. His career earnings are valued by Forbes at $75 million and no, I am not going to convert that to rands.

Just know, it’s a lot of money as a top sportsman. If you had to put that type of money into perspective, there are very few CEOs in South Africa earning that type of money. Golf is definitely a good career choice.

Worst case scenario, you don’t make it, but end up playing great golf, this will definitely help your business career or at the very least win weekly meat hampers. The next big two are football and rugby.

Soccer being our national sport thus commands more sponsorship from local companies, allows clubs to pay their players well, provided they play for one of the top five clubs. Teams at the bottom, or just coming into the PSL, don’t have the big spend Kaizer Chiefs, Sundown’s or Pirates have.

Rugby is a tough one as a career because of two reasons. Yes, you can make good money out of playing for your franchise, but the risk of injury is off the charts and when you are not playing, you are not making money.

The second reason rugby is challenging is because it is one of the only sports that is getting it right at youth development level, school level, academy level and club level. This means that rugby is producing more talented players than clubs can accommodate which in turn means if you are fantastic, the minute you get injured, there are two or three players ready to throw their bodies on the line.

This is why a good portion of South Africans look to play abroad to make a living while getting valuable game time. Rugby careers are short-lived and even though salaries are high, you need to last at least 10 years to make enough money to look after your family and live a moderate lifestyle.

Then we have cricket, and I am sure you are going to use Graeme Smith as an example of money that can be made. But if you look at the franchise level, how many people are filling the seats at matches?

How well publicised is it and how much coverage does the media give them? If you are not putting masses of bums on seats, don’t expect the salaries to be very high. Therefore cricket would definitely not be a career you can look forward to in making decent money.

Other sports like hockey, tennis, basketball, swimming and netball have still a long way to go before South Africans can make a living out of their passion.

Let me hear your thoughts on twitter @SeanVStaden on which sport you think you can make a career out of playing in South Africa.