Eight years ago, I interacted quite a bit with German entrepreneur and conservationist Jochen Zeitz whose dalliance with Kenya is highlighted by his ownership of the upmarket Segera Retreat in the heart of the Laikipia plateau.
Zeitz was then chief executive officer at German sportswear giant Puma, and had tagged along the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, to promote “The Long Run”, one of his pet conservation projects which Puma poster boy Bolt along with Cameroon football icon Samuel Eto’o, also a Puma ambassador, supported.
When I indulged him on the issue of Harambee Stars, and whether, thanks to his love affair with Kenya, Puma would show some interest in a sponsorship for the national football team, his answer was straightforward.
“Only when Kenya starts featuring regularly in the Africa Cup of Nations, first, and then also makes an appearance at the World Cup would Puma show any interest in a partnership with the Football Kenya Federation,” he told me as we watched matches of the Laikipia Unity Cup which he sponsors annually in Laikipia.
He made sense, because with the current harsh global business environment, no serious investor would risk sinking cash into a project with scanty return on investment.
Which is why Football Kenya Federation (FKF) should regroup and set serious targets for the national team currently riding on the crest of their successful Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup campaign.
Granted, FKF, the Stars, and new coach Paul Put, deserve a round of applause for clinching Africa’s oldest consistently organised regional football tournament, but Sunday’s triumph in Machakos should only be the first step towards the difficult journey of making an impact in Africa.
The reality is that sponsors are only interested in performance, not philanthropy, which explains why the President of the Italian Football Federation Carlo Tavecchio resigned last month after the “Azzurri” failed to qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time in 60 years.
Tavecchio was guilty of overseeing a systematic decimation of the national team whose failure to make it to Russia next summer will see their kit sponsors, yes, Puma, lose over $1.5 million (Sh150 million) in projected World Cup revenue alone. That’s why Puma wouldn’t touch Harambee Stars with a 10-foot pole.
However, it is such positive performances like the Cecafa triumph that launch courtship with the big boys of global sponsorship.
Meanwhile, FKF and the Stars also need to explore the “stop-gap route” through the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (Nock) that enjoys a romantic relationship with American sportswear giants Nike.
The Nock contract provides for kitting of all its affiliates — and the FKF is an integral member — for international assignments such as the Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games and continental competitions.
FKF boss Nick Mwendwa must now sit down with the new Nock President Paul Tergat and have a word with Nike on how football can get better play in this athletics-heavy arrangement, of course with performance the dangling carrot.
It’s reassuring to see Central Bank of Kenya director Mohammed Nyaoga picked by Nock to spearhead the Olympic committee’s fund-raising and marketing committee as he understands the sports dynamics pretty well, having at one point served as the chairman of the Harambee Stars Management Board in 2002.
Besides bringing into play a long-term fund raising strategy, Nyaoga and his team should be able to negotiate a better kitting deal with Nike whose current contract with Nock is heavily skewed in the Americans’ favour.
An astute lawyer, Nyaoga will know how waltz around the legal land mines of the lopsided contract and open doors to more suitors should Nike not play game.
And next time Tergat makes the trip to Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, he should tag along Nyaoga and Mwendwa to help fight for a better slice of the cake for football, which I regard as the sleeping giant of Kenyan sport.
Of course unless Zeitz wishes to put in a word at the Puma headquarters, which I doubt he will, unless the Stars make it to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finals in Cameroon and, subsequently, the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar!
The Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup victory should only be the beginning of better things to come for Kenyan football.