To own or to sponsor, the question for corporates in sports

BY KENYATTA OTIENO I came cross the term ‘core business’ first when I was a student leader in University. The Vice Chancellor was responding to our agitation for more bed space to accommodate the increasing number of students. According to the good professor, accommodation was not a core business of the university. He proposed a system where they will lease out the hostels to private investors so that he can concentrate on the core function of the university, which is to disseminate knowledge. The word came home again recently in my discussions about lack of interest in sports sponsorship from corporates in Kenya. The world over, it is corporates who fund the sports industry for marketing and publicity. In Kenya, major corporates prefer to own sporting entities as departments or welfare entities than sponsor existing clubs. It brought me to the core business question, why can’t these corporates concentrate on their core businesses and let people who are passionate about sports run clubs? I will not claim to be an authority on this matter because I have never been into the depths of corporate budgeting. I write out of what I see from where I stand as a sports fan first and then as a writer. Apart from being a social venture, sports is also big business. Leading brands in the world are associated with sports because sports have penetrated all levels of society. There is always a sport associated with every society and culture and some like football can be termed as universal. Chase Bank recently formed a hockey team and named it Chasers, and registered it for the league. Telkom Orange also has a women’s hockey club. The other clubs in Hockey are mostly community based or institutional. Why did Chase Bank decide to form a hockey club and not sponsor the struggling community clubs like Wazalendo? Chase Bank is the new kid on the block. East Africa Breweries Limited (EABL) own Tusker Football Club. Equity and Cooperative Banks have a basketball clubs after Barclays wound up their Eagles basketball club. Kenya Commercial Bank Football Club was recently relegated from KPL while Posta Kenya owned Posta Rangers FC was promoted. Kabaras Sugar Limited has come out as more sports oriented as they currently run football, rugby and hockey clubs. With Western Kenya boasting of a good talent pool, they have been causing upsets in the sports circles. In Volleyball, KCB, Cooperative Bank, Kenya Pipeline Corporation, Kenya Defence Forces, Kenya Prisons Service, General Service Unit of the Kenya Police Service, just to mention a few, own top flying clubs. Recently Insurance Firm Britam followed Safaricom in branding a national stadium with its colours. Nyayo Stadium can as well be Britam National Stadium for now. As they were branding it, I foresaw a challenge that Royal Media Services encountered with Supersport when the local media house put up billboards around the stadium. Supersport would cover them in black draping as they aired KPL matches live. Britam went around the challenge by sponsoring Mathare United which made them partners in football hence Supersport would not have a problem beaming their colours across Africa. Why din’t Royal Media Services sponsor one of the struggling clubs in KPL? The answer lies out there with their marketing department. Traditionally, government and parastatals owned sports outfits in Kenya. Currently Armed Forces have football and basketball clubs in the top-flight leagues after disbanding rugby and hockey clubs. Kenya Ports Authority basketball and football clubs are still strong while Prisons volleyball team and Kenya Police hockey teams are also strong in their respective leagues. What these institutions offer their players is a stable salary unlike community clubs where one can go without pay for months. They also provide employment and an assured source of livelihood after playing career is over. This stability may appear good for the game but it could be the enemy of our best show. These sports outfits operate as departments of the big corporation. They receive an annual budget that is run in most cases by a junior manager who most likely is supervised by people who do not know the details of sports. The junior manager is happy with the arrangement as he gets away with some aspects of management, which suits him. When things are going well for the corporation and the clubs are featured in the media nobody is bothered beyond the usual. Things change when the corporation hits economic headwinds. One of the first things to face budget cuts is the sports outfits, as they are not core business. This is always the easiest, most prudent action when the management is thinking of cutting costs. What will happen if EABL disbanded their team or renamed it Ruaraka United and handed it over to the community around Thika Road? The excuse is always that sports administrators especially in football are corrupt hence the reluctance by corporates to relinquish management of their clubs. There are several ways to go about this; the accounting systems for the corporate can be set up in the club with the accountants being its employees. Several people can be seconded as managers and directors as well. The other option is going the Tuzo- Gor Mahia way. The sponsorship was broken down and Tuzo paid the suppliers and players directly. This looks like a good deal in the interim but the long-term solution is for the right faces to take up management in our clubs. The challenge is, the best managers who also happen to love sports have never felt it worth leaving the comfort of good salaries for uncertainty in sports. If we can take sports seriously, we can tap into this multibillion-shilling industry in the world. Kenya has been at the top in the world of athletics, where we have ruled the tracks for decades, volleyball, boxing, hockey, cricket and sevens rugby. With such a record, our corporates can share their best practices with sports clubs for mutual benefit. When all is said and done, corporates cannot run their core businesses and run a sports outfit successfully, one must give way. The best option is sponsoring community clubs.

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