Thanking Sportpesa

The Kenyan sports industry has been neglected by stakeholders in the country for a very long time. This has seen talent in the country go to waste in enormous levels. Very few of those who get to exploit their talents manage to live up to their potential due to poor levels of support and facilitation in the industry. It is such a sorry state of affairs that has led to a lot of cases of broken dreams and high levels of youth unemployment that is accompanied with poverty. As always, whenever a people are left in such a desperate conditions they get easily taken advantage of. In Kenyan social circles, there is a term that has become very popular. “Team Mafisi” (Team hyenas)is a term that has become popular referring to people who salivate at potential partners that they can’t have while taking advantage of those that are desperate. A hyena is the last animal any straight thinking person would want associated with his name. Unfortunately, the people who have been showing up to support sports in Kenya have all been “Team Mafisi” until recently.

Politicians in Kenya have been the worst culprits when it comes to misuse of the sports industry. Only when the general elections are around the corner is when you will see a lot of sports activities happening all over the country. From Wajir in the farthest North East to Sirare in the furthest South West.From Lodwar in the Furthest North West toKilifi in the furthest South East. Even places like Moyale where we have almost been meant to believe that no sport talent exists will have numerous sporting events during this political season. It is an interesting period where you will come across many youths across the country with low quality t-shirts emblazoned with tournament names named after the sponsor who will always be among those eyeing a political seat. 

Corporates on the other hand have not failed in emulating the political class. They come up with all manners of gimmicks in the name of sports sponsorship just to get their brands into the media. Some have decided to come up with CSR outfits in the name of sports clubs while others arrange disorganized events in the name of tournaments.  You will be left laughing when you come to learn that these clubs that corporates come up with and boast of do not enjoy support of more than ten employees in from the sponsoring companies let alone the general public. For instance Tusker F.C, one of the oldest clubs in the Kenyan topflight and the third most decorated after AFC Leopards SC  and GorMahia has more media staff than fans who show up to watch their matches. Even EABL employees who would be quite a number don’t show up to support their own club in the stadium.

“Kenyans don’t like football, they only like gossiping and drinking beer in bars,” this is an infamous quote by the CECAFA Secretary General Nicholas Musonye. He said this out of anger in his heavy Luyha accent while he was commenting on the poor crowd turn-out in the 2010 CECAFA tournament that was hosted in Kenya. I almost agreed with him on this but after my heavy involvement in the sports industry for close to six years now I have come to totally disagree with him. Kenyans love not only football but many of the sports disciplines played in Kenya. The problem is the packaging and management of sports related institutions and activities.

To better explain this to you, kindly allow me to use football as an example. During the weekends, I see a very big number of Kenyans putting on jerseys of their favorite teams, many of them from European leagues especially the English Premier League. The number of people who show up in the smallest pub in my neighborhood to watch a match involving Arsenal or Manchester United is usually more than the number of fans you will find in a KRA versus KCB match at Nyayo stadium. The loudness of the groans when a player misses a goal scoring chance or the cheers and jeers that usually emanate from these joints in the neighborhoods where people watch European matches will tell you how much Kenyans are into football. The love that is shown by Kenyans for European football is because of two things, the management and packaging.

The management of Kenyan football has had numerous challenges for a long time. These challenges range from incompetence and lack of resources to blatant corruption. Despite this there has been some improvement. Some of the challenges that Kenyan football and sport in general suffer have been proven to not only exist in Kenya but even at the highest levels (i.e FIFA and IAAF).  It is this challenge that many corporates have used as an excuse to completely avoid or partially participate in Kenyan football. In my own opinion, this is an argument that is neither here nor there. If these corporates indeed believed that the mismanagement in Kenyan football will not be good for their brands they would not come up with the numerous teams that take up huge slots in the various leagues in the country. 

Kenyan corporates are being selfish and opportunistic. Selfish in the sense that they are not ready to fully engage in areas that will see them genuinely give back to society and opportunistic in the sense that they have always been in a rush to harvest where they never sow. East African Breweries (EABL) for almost three decades had been the company recording the highest amounts of profits in the country. Even though the brand has been associated with sports for quite a while, their contribution to the industry is almost negligible. It is until 21 August 2012 that EABL decided to sponsor the Kenyan Premier League (KPL). This is sad! Many will try to argue that by founding Kenya Breweries Football Club (Now Tusker Football Club), EABL has done a lot for Kenyan football. This is an example of one of the opportunistic decisions made by Kenyan corporates. 

For you to understand this better let me give you some numbers to crunch. On August 21st 2012 KPL signed what was referred to as the most lucrative deal in Kenyan football history. It was a partnership with EABL which saw the giant brewery take the league title naming rights through its Tusker brand to rename it the Tusker Premier League for a three year period.  Sources reported the deal to be worth Kshs. 170 million (USD 2 Million). Tusker is a brand that has existed in Kenya for over fifty years; the brand has come to be synonymous with the country’s name. After EABL failed to convince the KPL management to extend the deal that ended in June 2015, a very young firm less than two years old at the time grabbed the opportunity. Sport Pesa, an East African betting firm signed a four-and-a-half year deal which sources reported to be worth Kshs. 450 million (approx.. US$ 4.36 million). This saw the league renamed to SportPesa Premier League. The deal which is nearly three times the value of the previous deal with Tusker, if calculated critically is more than the total amount of spending EABL has done on football for the past four and a half years. This means that SportPesa has invested more money that EABL had put in the league through Tusker F.C and league sponsorship in the four and a half years before Sport Pesa signed the deal with EABL for the same period of time. The only deal by EABL that could come close to this is the Kshs. 330 million that was announced in 2005 that was to cover sponsorships in East Africa for a three year period.

The only other firm that has put more money than SportPesa into the league is Super Sport, Kenyans will not really appreciate their effort that much though. The reason being that, the sports broadcaster has for a long time taken a key role in killing of Kenyan football and sports in general. Their sponsorship has been seen by many as a case of compensation for the evil they have being doing. Super Sport has been on the spot for giving preferential coverage for foreign leagues over Kenyan football. This has seen more people in the country develop a strong affection for the English Premier League (EPL). Many Kenyans spend a lot of money in the pubs drinking EABL beer brands and watching EPL matches on Super Sport creating profits for the two African firms in millions of dollars at the cost of Kenyan talent.

Corporates in Kenya have been good at coming up with gimmicks that are aimed at taking advantage of the football industry where they put very little effort to support talent. A case in point is a recent activity that I watched on Nation Media Group’s main broadcast channel NTV. On their Saturday live programe “Top Sport” that aired on May 28th 2016, they were asked viewers to say which team they thought would win the UEFA Champions League between rivals Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid and the winners were to be rewarded with a GorMahia F.C or AFC Leopards S.C branded jacket. In a week, the total number of minutes Kenyan football coverage gets on NTV or QTv cannot go beyond fifteen minutes. The total amount of space Kenyan football gets in the Daily Nation and Taifa Leo will never on a regular day be more than that which EPL coverage gets. At most it will be half a page. The amount of time Kenyan football gets discussed on Nation FM and Q Fm cannot be more than one hour. All these media outlets are owned by Nation Media Group (NMG) the biggest media house in the country which is listed on the Nairobi Stock Exchange bourse.

Despite contributing almost nothing to grow football in the country or the Kenyan sports industry NMG found a way to make money. This was through manufacturing of merchandise for the most followed clubs in the country, AFC Leopards and GorMahia. They argue that through this they are helping build the Kenyan game. Wouldn’t it have made sense if they made merchandise for all league participants and sold it at cost instead of producing only for the two clubs and selling it for a profit? The optimist came and saw the glass half full, the pessimist saw it half-empty, and the opportunist saw the water and drank it all.

In February 2013 Kenya Power, an organization that is mostly talked about thanks to their poor client relationship management and frequent poor outages came up with the “Kenya Power Charity Cup” tournament which was to be an annual event. The originators of the idea probably thought it would be a good avenue to help bridge the wide gap that they have been having with their customers. You shouldn’t   wonder why they didn’t come up with this before creating many clubs across the country including Western Stima under their management. As I had told you earlier in this article, Kenyan corporates are selfish and opportunistic.

The Kenya Power Charity Cup was to be like the Community Shield in England, the aim was to raise money that would be distributed to community-based sporting initiatives “to encourage and promote sport as a healthy means of livelihood among the youth.” The funny part is that the event was to take place in a single day. Yes, in one day KPLC was to host an event like the Charity Cup which happens in England. It wasn’t a shock when this tournament disappeared as fast as it came up. An event that was to encourage youth to take sport as a means of healthy livelihood was being used to sell the KPLC brand name at the expense of the players’ health.  Why should a well moneyed corporate like Kenya Power subject players to an exhausting assignment of playing two matches in a single day!

Just like their brothers and sisters in crime, Kenya Power a company that spends only 1% of their net profits on corporate social responsibility was not really after developing football in the country through their Charity Cup idea. They had come to take advantage of the football industry. If the company took the amount of money they use on their clubs participating in the different leagues they to sponsor the league, the FKF Cup or a community based club, they would have managed to get far much better publicity for their brand than what they get. The poor publicity levels that they have managed through their clubs could obviously be the reason why they came up with the Charity Cup idea. Corporates should understand that they can’t eat the cake and have it at the same time. We have been told through poorly published articles on sports websites and social media posts by KPLC with scant information about the amounts of revenue that were raised through the first Charity Cup edition and how they were used. 

The organizers of the Kenya Power Charity Cup communicated through the KPLC social pages that the Kshs. 5,626,445.80 which was collected in the first edition of the tournament was used in lighting city stadium, refurbishing a football pitch in Kawangware and refurbishing Dandora Social hall. They went further to state that the funds were distributed through Red Cross for social good.  By the time this article was being published, City Stadium didn’t have proper lighting and thus couldn’t host a match under floodlights.

If you take all the above into consideration you will realize that SportPesa is the best thing to have happened in Kenyan football. Within less than five years of existence, Sport Pesa has shown both by acts and intent that they are taking Kenyan football and sports industry as a whole with the seriousness it deserves. Within their short stint as sponsors in the Kenyan sports industry, they have managed to scoop the Best African Sponsorship Award at the Discovery Sports Industry Awards. To lift this award, they beat big names on the continent like Kenya’s Safaricom who would rather paint the whole Kasarani Stadium including the toilet seats and urinals with their brand name in the name of sponsorship than sponsor a national team, league or local club. 

The SportPesa marketing manager in his speech when receiving the award was quoted saying, “We are delighted to have won this award ahead of global brands and campaigns that are strong and present on several mediums around the world. What excites us more is that our investment in the SportPesa Premier League is buoyed by a need to showcase Kenya club football as an engaging, exciting and a competitive league. This is therefore a win for local football in general and we are truly honored.” No one can doubt this. The seriousness of this statement can be supported by the fact that the league sponsors unlike their predecessors, went to Italy and shopped for a good/sleek looking 12 kilogram handcrafted trophy for the league. This goes a long way in improving the packaging of the league.

In his comments after receiving the award, SportPesa Marketing Manager Kester Muhanji said, “In a bid to revolutionize the face of football in Kenya we took up sponsorship of the Kenyan Premier League effective on August 1, 2015. Our aspiration is to have the Kenyan national team Harambee Stars compete in the 2022 World Cup.” Looking at the history Kenyan football has had with corporate sponsors, one will easily doubt this statement but when you look at the action that has come with the words from SportPesa you would be left with a lot of optimism. Apart from sponsoring the league, the betting firm has signed lucrative shirt sponsorship deals with GorMahia and AFC Leopards. The firm has also brought into the country Arsenal coaches to conduct coaching clinics with their Kenyan counterparts in a bid to raise the quality of the game in the country. KPL for the first time together with “K’Ogalo” and “Ingwe” were put in a very tight corner by the sponsor after they suspended their sponsorships for the two clubs due to hooliganism incidents involving fans of the two rival clubs. The big stick that was wielded by SportPesa saw for the first time docking of points happen as a punishment for hooliganism in the Kenyan Premier League. Not forgetting that the company has been sponsoring other sporting disciplines, isn’t this enough to show how serious they are with developing sports in the country?

SportPesa has set the bar high in terms of corporate participation in Kenyan football. It will be very encouraging to know if their counterparts are learning something. Imagine if the firms decided to form their own club and have it participate in the KPL, would they get as much publicity? It will be hard for anyone to refute the fact that Mumias Sugar got more publicity through their partnership with AFC Leopards than that which they got throughout the existence of their defunct Mumias Sugar F.C. The numbers of jerseys all over the country emblazoned with the brand say it all.

Instead of Kenyan corporates trying hard to always come up with shortcuts to get publicity through sports they should try and find workable ways of partnering with sports institutions to reap the benefits of the industry without diverting their energies from their core-businesses. SportPesa Ltd is a trailblazer and we Kenyan sports lovers wish others would follow suit. It is good that now much of the money that was being spent in pubs by those watching EPL matches is now being put into the SportPesa betting platform. This is the money that many of them would have spent on EABL products while shouting themselves hoarse cheering clubs that don’t know they exist here in Kenya. It is great that a genius company while teaching other corporates how to genuinely partner with sports institutions is now reinvesting the attention that Kenyans would have given to their own football in monetary terms.

Thank you SportPesa.

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