Winning in sports, winning in business

June 2024 Business

This article has been created in partnership with SPIRIT Slovenia business development agency

Photo: AmCham Slovenia

Maja Dragovic

From the Tour de France to the NBA courts and soon Euro 2024, Slovenian athletes keep garnering global acclaim, boosting the country’s prestige and economic opportunities on the world stage. Luka Dončić’s prowess on the basketball court is a perfect example of how sports shine a spotlight on a nation. "He (Luka Dončić) has made us in touch with how wonderful Slovenia is —what a great place it is to live, to work, to play. We didn’t know that before we met Luka," said Cynt Marshall, managing director of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team.

Historically, sports have played a crucial role in enhancing national prestige, as seen during the Cold War, where athletic achievements were a proxy for ideological supremacy. A study by Jan Haut, Jonathan Grix, Paul Michael Brannagan, and Ivo van Hilvoorde underscores that sporting victories contribute significantly to a nation’s international reputation. For example, 78.2% of Germans believe that Olympic medals boost Germany’s global image, a sentiment echoed by Canadians around the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Beyond pride

But the impact of sporting success goes beyond the national pride. In nations as small as Slovenia, it helps boost the country’s global recognition. Performances by Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič in cycling have been nothing short of spectacular, attracting attention in every corner of the globe. Lance Armstrong, former cyclist, remarked on their impact following the 2020 Tour de France: “A great day for Slovenia. I mean, I don’t even remember whether I’ve ever cycled with any Slovenes. I don’t even know where Slovenia is… They were first and second! A remarkable day for Slovenia!”  Armstrong’s astonishment highlights the extent to which these athletes have brought Slovenia into the global spotlight.

Luka Dončić, the NBA star, has similarly elevated Slovenia’s recognition in the United States. “Our inspiration for building strong business and friendly ties between Slovenia and Texas is undoubtedly Luka Dončić, who has won the hearts of the locals and significantly raised Slovenia’s visibility”, said Ajša Vodnik, chair of AmChams in Europe.

Mega events as platforms for business

On the heels of sporting success, major sporting events also serve as strategic platforms for economic diplomacy and business promotion. On the sidelines of Dallas Mavericks games in the NBA, SPIRIT Slovenia business development agency, the Ministry for Economy, Sports and Tourism, AmCham Slovenia and other partners organised Texas Feels Slovenia event in Dallas in 2023 and 2024 where Slovenia showcased its potential as an investment destination. More than 170 participants from a number of leading American companies attended the events. Following the event this year, Rok Capl, director of Slovenia Business (SPIRIT Slovenia business development agency) said : “We are delighted that so many American participants attended and recognised us as an important business destination, both in terms of creating new partnerships and investment opportunities. We are very pleased with their response and their positive surprise at the opportunities our country has to offer, as this is a great endorsement of the efforts and many activities we are carrying out in the US market.”

The upcoming Euro 2024 offers similar opportunities. The match between Slovenia and Serbia in Munich on 19 June will be leveraged to showcase Slovenian businesses to a German audience. Multiple organisations that include Ministry of Economy, Sports and Tourism, together with SPIRIT Slovenia, the Football Association of Slovenia, with the support of the Slovenian Tourist Board, the Embassy of the Republic of Slovenia in Germany, the Consulate General of the Republic of Slovenia in Munich, and the Slovenian-German Chamber of Commerce have joined forces to organise a business event where almost 45 companies have registered to attend, including German automotive giant Mercedes Benz.

The link

So, the importance of FDI in an economy is quite clean maths – in Slovenia, it represents 34% of its GDP. And while it is difficult to put a number on the link between sporting success and economic benefits, there could be some indications. For example, the trade between Slovenia and the USA increased since Luka Dončić joined the Dallas Mavericks in 2018. Between 2020 and 2023, exports to the USA increased from just over EUR 560m to just over EUR 855m. A pure coincidence? Maybe, but could be considered.

Helping hand

And in the midst of all the international promotion of Slovenia’s quality business environment, quality workforce and high quality of life, is SPIRIT Slovenia business development agency and a one-stop shop for all businesses and investors coming to the country. From providing the latest investment opportunities online,  to offering comprehensive advice and information from start to finish, the agency ensures foreign companies and investors are well informed and  supported. Attracting investors is important. But keeping them in the country is even more and the agency has a separate program for FDIs already in the country to offer continuous support and guidance.The agency also awards the annual FDI of the Year to recognise significant contributors to the Slovenian economy.