Cynthia played basketball as a student and dreamed of becoming a professional basketball player for the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) team in the US. This did not happen. She joined the corporate world after university, and after working for 12 years as a marketing manager, she resigned to start a sports company. Through Sports Connect Africa, Cynthia is now living her childhood dream of earning a living from sports. She discusses business opportunities in the sporting arena.
Leaving a well-paying job to form a start-up is a risky move. What was your game plan?
I always knew that I wanted a career in sports business. From the moment I quit my job, my plan was to set up a business in this area, but I wasn't sure how it would be sports. It was a leap of faith, and thankfully it has worked out.
What is Sports Connect Africa? What services do you offer?
Sports Connect Africa is a sports consultancy firm. Our main focus is to deliver value to sports stakeholders through consultancy, management, events promotion, marketing and development. We focus on educating the public and different stakeholders in sports. Sports business is wide, and our ultimate goal is to commercialise it.
Locally, sports is still not recognised as a full-time job. From a sports marketing perspective, what should we do as a country to nurture and appreciate talent?
This is ironical, because out there Kenya is considered a sporting nation. Athletes like Victor Wanyama and Eliud Kipchoge are respected all over the world. It is therefore sad that we have not found a way to fully commercialise local sports. We need to draft a development agenda and formulate policies that promote sports. We must recognise that sports is a business, and so investing adequately in this industry is a must if we hope to reap any benefits. There must be concerted efforts from all stakeholders, especially through effective public-private partnerships so that the local sporting industry can grow.
Is sports management lucrative? What investment opportunities exist in this domain?
Sports is one of the highest paying industries in the world. There is a big opportunity in infrastructure development. The notion that only the government can put up sports infrastructure is misguided. Developing talent by establishing sports academies and sports agencies, and sports marketing are also attractive opportunities for business. Find your niche, develop a business model that works for you and learn from other people.
Many local athletes struggle financially after enjoying high-profile careers. What goes wrong and how can we avoid this?
An athlete’s career is very short. Most athletes are thrown into the sporting limelight when they are young and naïve. Usually, they earn big sums of money over short periods. So without proper guidance, they end up misusing their money. Some greedy agents also take advantage of them. It is a global challenge.
Capacity building now equips athletes with an understanding of their rights and how to manage and reinvest their wealth. But we also need to reign in on rogue agents and managers who defraud their clients.
In what way has your transition from gainful employment to entrepreneurship changed your work ethics?
Running a business is about grit, resilience and getting back up when you fall. You must have self-belief and know where you want to be. Without these values, you cannot survive in the business world.
What key attributes drive you as a person and as a professional?
I value constructive relationships. And I keep away from relationships that pull me back. In any job, you need people’s support. Also, resilience has helped me stay on course. I’ve become more open to learning new techniques of doing business. The world is not static and neither is any profession. So I am always feeding my hunger for knowledge.
Tell us about the highlights of your career.
Last year I was recognised among the Top 30 Under 40 Global Leaders in Sports Business, by Leaders in Sport, becoming the first African woman to achieve that feat. I am a certified International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Academy manager. I was also the first woman in Africa to obtain this certification.
In 2008, I joined the Kenya Basketball Federation Executive Committee aged only 25 and managed the national team at the All Africa Games in Mozambique. The experience was both a thrill and an eye-opener.
Through sports, I have travelled the world and I have come to appreciate its overwhelming potential.
Talk to young people who would like to make a living out of their talent.
Get to understand the business angle of what you are good at. View your talent as your principal skill. Learn, plan and stay focussed.
Never dwell on missed chances. Instead, spot and seize opportunities. Young women should not be afraid of taking up leadership roles in sports management. You are just as capable and need to be equally involve.