Football must learn how to create value

By Aldrine Nsubuga

As recent as 31 July, Ugandans didn’t know what next for the Uganda Premier League, having lost the previous sponsors Azam, and without any indication since, that a saviour had come to town.

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A US $ 7,240,000 sponsorship (Sh.28 billion) towards football for a staggering 10 years in Uganda, should be a fantasy.

This one isn’t. A country where the government’s annual sports budget doesn’t exceed US $ 1,500,000 (Sh.5,8 billion) must know when to celebrate when a helping hand has been offered.

As recent as 31 July, Ugandans didn’t know what next for the Uganda Premier League, having lost the previous sponsors Azam, and without any indication since, that a saviour had come to town. Yes, in January, a new company Sports Broadcasting had announced that they had secured the TV broadcast rights for the UPL for US $ 3 million and seven months later, it remained just a story in gossip columns.

Local football lovers feared that the league which had taken a step forward was about to suffer a still birth if the new season were to start without a sponsor. The rest is now history. FUFA and the UPL found a way out in StarTimes; the biggest pay television service provider in the country with more than 1.3 million subscribers. From zero on 31 July to sh. 28 billion  on 9 August. The StarTimes Uganda Premier League and StarTimes Big League, as they are now known, have had lady luck smiling on them at a time when the mood was somber.

A decade long guarantee of sponsorship - more than an ideal amount of the value per season – is what stands out in the StarTimes deal. It’s an opportunity for the 16 clubs in the top division to focus on creating value for their clubs by improving on their administrative structures, building infrastructures, growing their fan bases, improving performances, developing and polishing talent, attracting quality players and selling players to professional and semi-professional football. With time, this is the intrinsic value that builds to raise the value for which commercial rights can be sold.

It’s therefore a shame that positive news about a new sponsor of football is greeted in some quarters with cynicism. Some ignorant members in the football fraternity have already drawn their guns and shooting the deal, for what they claim to be  under valuation. They are keeping a blind eye to the reality that it’s harder to get a sponsor of club football than getting through a needle’s eye. You wonder why, those who think that StarTimes should have offered a much bigger package per season, did not secure a sponsor themselves. FUFA has always insisted they welcome anybody within their members – including delegates and club officials – who brings a sponsor to football and to demonstrate that goodwill, they made it legal to pay a 10% commission to the bringer of good news.

This should be incentive enough for anyone to walk the talk and seduce sponsors, which sadly is not happening. The Ugandan league or Ugandan football is yet to reach a level where the value is so strong that it dictates it’s own price when it comes to sponsorships. Where the leading clubs like SC Villa and Express are still struggling to get basics like ownership, membership and administration right. Where institutional clubs like Police FC, Simba FC, URA and others are yet to understand how to optimize their institutional muscle and turn that into opportunity.

There is nothing wrong with demanding for more, but there must be a qualification for that. Clubs and fans must therefore appreciate and welcome any sponsorship because it provides a launching pad to lure other sponsors to come in and support individual clubs. The example of KCCA FC and SC Vipers is apparent. They have positioned their brands to the extent of having corporate organizations wanting to be a part of their progress. This ought to be the spirit displayed by all other clubs which are still struggling to take the first steps. This is the background to the hailing of StarTimes deal as  landmark deal in the history of Ugandan sport. It was a strategic business decision by the pay tv company which is why they committed for 10 years but FUFA as well have positioned strategically. The deal must be welcomed.