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OPINION: Why companies don’t want to sponsor Ghana’s league!

There is gloom and despair hanging over Ghana’s football at the moment.

The country’s premier league wears the tag of a football competition without a future or ambition. The handlers of the league, the Ghana Football Association, have earned the derogatory nickname of a body without focus; many pointing to it as a house of corruption characterised by a lack of planning. Everything is upside down and nobody is sure what will happen next as the wretched state of the league continues to defer solutions.

This low point has made watching league football anywhere across the country a painful exercise. Games are so bland and boring with no atmosphere in virtually empty stadiums. Players are not paid as and when due. Sign-on fees are never paid on time. Players ply their trade in the worst possible conditions and nobody is ready to turn around their fortunes.

Begs the question, why would any company want to associate their brand with such a bad product? Why would any company offer to be the title sponsor for a league that has fallen to its lowest ebb?

When First Capital Plus Bank was announced as the new sponsor of the Ghana league in 2014 (a 5-year sponsorship deal worth $10m with the Ghana Football Association), many saw it as a timely intervention, but also as a wild risk. And reasonably so.

This is a league that has lots of obstacles against its progress despite the abundance of talent. Bad pitches, below standard stadia, low turnout of fans on match days, hooliganism, bad officiating, age falsification, lack of comprehensive records, etc. have continuously plagued the league. The systems and structures that are supposed to be working to enhance the league’s corporate image have been non-existent. Not many sponsors were remotely interested in sponsoring the league, so First Capital Plus Bank’s decision to make payments of $2m annually for five years was spoken of as a renaissance. But what did the bank get in return for this commitment? What sort of mileage did the bank get to convince other brands to associate themselves with the league?

First Capital Plus Bank’s agreement with the Ghana Football Association included title sponsorship of the league, exclusive marketing rights, and extensive advertising privileges amongst other things. That’s the potential benefit the bank sought to derive from the partnership. The bank expected to raise brand awareness and develop brand preferences in their marked marketplaces as well as create positive public relations. They were not sponsoring the league as an act of charity – rather as a corporate decision that must provide a positive return on their investment. They didn’t get the corporate branding, marketing angles and public relations benefits they craved for. And fair being fair, they walked away.

The Football Association had, prior to that, failed to give Glo the mileage it needed to match the annual $3 million they were investing. Glo felt short-changed and that was why a compromised agreement was later reached between both parties, where the GFA agreed to accept a 30% discount on contractual payments. That was a new low for a league that was already struggling money-wise and which had weakened and faltered in the direction it was going. What needed to be fixed before the agreement with First Capital Plus Bank, to a regrettable extent, was not fixed.

The league has still not solved its biggest problems, which everyday highlights its downward spiral. The fans are disappearing, the money is vanishing, and the once-sterling reputation may be gone for good.

So make no mistake, there is an element of uncertainty about companies putting their assets on the line here. Maybe they would go through a review process which includes a full risk assessment and will be convinced that their reputation can weather certain liabilities, if they eventually befall them.  Maybe not.

Now though, it is important to ensure that any new sponsorship is welcomed by the targeted audience and the partnership organizations, especially the FA, should be completely ethical in their activities. Companies cannot risk becoming involved with a league which is unprofessionally managed and with an even slightly dubious reputation.

First Capital Plus Bank’s funding of the league should have afforded their brand the chance to associate itself with the excitement of sponsoring a professionally-run top-flight competition. Glo should have earned same, not some nickels and dimes in the guise of sponsorship benefits.

The next company that shows up to sponsor the league shouldn’t fall victim to First Capital Plus Bank and Glo’s difficulties. They should be convince that a powerful, emotional association with the league can help make customers and football fans feel more positive about their business. They must, simply, reap what they sow.

The league is in a depressing state of affairs, something those in charge should accept. First Capital Plus Bank’s decision to come through with $10m tells that they wanted to get the most out of this sponsorship and the FA ought to do far more than just slap the next sponsor’s logos on players’ shirts or stadium’s hoardings – the sponsorship should not be treated as just another form of outdoor advertising. That next sponsor will want people to know about the goodwill of their investment so it will be sensible for all the stakeholders to promote them through unreserved marketing and advertising processes. The authorities at the helm of affairs must help them improve their market share, prestige, help increase their publicity and to help them gain enhanced brand recognition among a rapidly growing portion of the Ghanaian business landscape.

If you spend $10m on a sponsorship, like First Capital Plus Bank did, surely you would want to know whether it is working or not. Measuring returns from sponsorship is difficult, but definitely not impossible – reason the FA should have a metric measurement system. By systematically defining the objectives of the agreement and putting in place quantitative and qualitative targets and measures, the FA should help the next sponsor judge whether or not the sponsorship has worked after every annual review. In the event of a failure to meet certain agreed clauses or provisions, there is always an opportunity for both parties to strive to do better. The entire workload can’t be left for the sponsor to do because they are the ones throwing their funds into this deal and as such must single-handedly be held accountable for the potential outcome of it.

The FA must show a willingness to want to help sponsors achieve positive results and facilitate them with an effective way of raising brand awareness. Most skepticism about the value of sponsorship arises because one party lacks clarity around the objectives and adequate systems for measuring results. This is, in turn, one of the biggest deterrents for potential sponsors. The FA must offer a hand in achieving a sponsor’s marketing and advertising objectives for their sponsorship. Without this, another doomsday approaches.

Problems abound everywhere, but there is hope that the Ghana league can return to its past glory that will be the envy of all. For that to happen, the league would need urgent cleansing in all its evils.

 

 

By Lexis Koufie-Amartey

 

 

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