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The money and the marketing power of sport

Friday April 26 2019


Barcelona's players celebrate their second goal during the Spanish league football match between Deportivo Alaves and FC Barcelona at the Mendizorroza stadium in Vitoria on April 23, 2019. Barcelona FC recently sold its shirt sponsorship rights to a Japanese e-commerce entity for £57 million. PHOTO | ANDER GILLENEA | AFP 

In the medieval era, sports and athletes relied on royal patronage to meet their needs and earn their living. However, with escalating costs and retreat of the monarch globally, that had to change.

Now the world over, sport is largely a sustainable business, thanks to Intellectual Property (IP). This informed the special protection demanded for Olympic symbols by IOC and the strict management of the football World Cup-related Intellectual Property by Fifa from host countries.

Sports intersect very closely with Intellectual Property, mainly by leveraging the use of brand names, sale of broadcast rights, image rights and kit and shirt sponsorships.

The biggest source of revenue for sports is sale of broadcast rights. This is especially true of global sports events like the Olympics and the football World Cup.

With online opportunities opening up, income from broadcast rights can only soar.


The sale of shirt rights is another source of revenue in sports. Barcelona FC recently sold its shirt sponsorship rights to a Japanese e-commerce entity for £57 million.

This is in addition to a $134 million a year kit sponsorship deal from Nike. The value of shirt sponsorship can determine the ability of a team to sign new players and invest in infrastructure.

The other source of sports revenue is the sale of naming rights to stadia. Case in point is the branding of Arsenal stadium as the ‘Emirates’, which continues to earn substantial incomes for the club.

A local example is the branding of Kasarani Stadium by Safaricom Plc.


Sports personalities earn a great deal of money from the use of their images to endorse products and services, especially by way of advertising.

Except for individual sports, the amounts are generally shared between the players and the team.

The management of the image rights has the capacity to break player transfers between clubs. With social media, the possibilities of exploiting image rights are mind boggling.

That Kenya possesses enormous talent in diverse sports is not in doubt. However, many sportsmen and women have not reached the peak of their careers due to management of sports and the limited use of Intellectual Property in the country.

Recently, the image of a long distance athlete on billboards by banks and telecommunication companies raised the question whether the image rights were cleared by the athlete’s management teams.


A few years ago, the use of football star Dennis Oliech’s image on a billboard nearly caused him to retire from national duty.

At the moment, Gor Mahia and, to some extent, Kenya Rugby Union, appear to understand the value of IP and earn some income from the exploitation of their rights from brand names, broadcast and image rights. Enormous opportunities still remain unexploited.

A lot of questions arise in this regard. Have we empowered our sportspersons to understand their IP rights?

Is it possible to ensure they get value commensurate to their image and brands? Can our sports teams leverage much more on the brands than they are currently? What can be done to develop sustainable sports in Kenya?


The secret may lie in sports policy. There is need to develop a policy that incorporates sustainable funding. The role of IP must be identified and supported.

The use of IP in Kenyan sport has taken off albeit slowly. We must give it impetus. With the support from IP offices in Kenya, sports persons can gain more from their talents.

Let the sports associations engage with Kenya Copyright Board and Kenya Industrial Property Institute to secure their rights. Only then will the journey to sustainable sports in Kenya have begun.

Mr Sigei is the executive director, Kenya Copyright Board. [email protected]