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Private-public partnerships key to hosting big events

Tuesday January 22 2019

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Executive Director of Communication Jackie Brock-Doyle (left) explains a point to Nation Media Group Managing Sports Editor Elias Makori, veteran sports reporter Ayumba Ayodi and Online Editor Japheth Mutinda at Nation Centre on January 17, 2019. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Executive Director of Communication Jackie Brock-Doyle (left) explains a point to Nation Media Group Managing Sports Editor Elias Makori, veteran sports reporter Ayumba Ayodi and Online Editor Japheth Mutinda at Nation Centre on January 17, 2019. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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The New England Patriots will feature, again, in the National Football League (NFL) Super Bowl when they face the Los Angeles Rams in the league’s flagship event in Atlanta on February 3.

Super Bowl 53 will be held at the ultra-modern (in every sense of the word) Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta, and will most certainly transform the economy of the Georgia State capital city.

Backed by a potent scoring offense, playmakers on defence and guided by the innovative coaching of Sean McVay, the youngest coach in the NFL who turns 33 on Thursday, the Rams charged past New Orleans Saints 26-23 in overtime on Sunday to make it to the Super Bowl.

They come up against the Patriots, Super Bowl 52 losing finalists (beaten 41-33 by the Philadelphia Eagles last year), who, powered by the legendary, 41-year-old quarterback Tom Brady, edged out Kansas City Chiefs 37-31 to qualify for the richest annual event in global sport.

This will be the third time for Atlanta to host the Super Bowl after organizing the 1994 and 200 editions.

The city most certainly knows the benefits of hosting such a major championship, and the private-public partnership Atlanta employed to win hosting rights offers huge lessons for Kenya’s sports administrators.

Last week, a 14-strong delegation from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) was in Nairobi on a site visit to assess Kenya’s preparations for next year’s IAAF World Under-20 Championships in Nairobi.

While the delegation felt, generally, that Nairobi would hold a successful event, a lot of issues raised concern, touching on our lack of seriousness in managing sports facilities.

For instance, since the closing ceremony of the IAAF World Under-18 Championships in 2017, the main stadium at Kasarani has been left largely unattended, with only the VIP area in good working condition, and for obvious reasons.

What was a world-class event Media Centre in 2017 is an eyesore, having gathered dust, and most of its facilities purchased for the global competition either vandalized or broken-down. A pungent smell of ammonia and human waste from the stadium’s toilets greeted the nostrils of the IAAF officials who, thankfully, elected to focus on the positives to give Nairobi a chance.

The then brand new, blue synthetic track, laid specifically for the youth championships, is slowly becoming a cocktail of blue and mud-brown. Sports Kenya takes the flak here because the responsibility of maintaining such public sports facilities rests squarely on their laps, as per Section 4 (b) of the Sports Act of 2013 that mandates the body to “manage and maintain sports facilities.”

Sports Kenya, under Section 4 (m) is also charged with the responsibility to “facilitate the preparation and participation of Kenyan teams in various international events and hosting of similar events in the country.”

One wonders, if they can’t do something as simple as maintain facilities, how can they competently bid for international competitions?

Meanwhile, Atlanta’s brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium made it quite easy for Atlanta’s bid committee to secure the Super Bowl.

The $1.6 billion (Sh160 billion) stadium will also be one of the venues for the expanded, 48-nation Fifa World Cup which USA will co-host with Canada and Mexico in 2026. This venue is crucial to Atlanta’s economy, increasing sporting revenues as NFL side Atlanta Falcons and Major League Soccer club Atlanta United use the stadium as their home base.

In May, 2016, Atlanta’s $46 million (Sh4.6 billion) public-private bid convinced the NFL’s voting owners that, indeed, the city had what it takes to host the Super Bowl. Of the amount, $20 million (Sh2 billion) came from Atlanta’s business community with $16 million (Sh1.6 billion) drawn from Atlanta’s hotel and motel taxes. A further $10 million (Sh1 billion) was sources from exemptions on game tickets, passed by Georgia’s lawmakers.

As further incentive, Atlanta offered the NFL $2 million (Sh200 million) as tax reimbursements, with a similar amount also given as contribution to game-related expenses, $1 million (Sh100 million) to “mitigate against inclement weather” and $375,000 (Sh37.5 million) to throw a bash for about 2,000 journalists expected to be accredited to cover the February 3 extravaganza. This is besides offering, gratis, VIP accommodation to the NFL’s owners arriving for the Super Bowl.

By itself, the State of Georgia wouldn’t have been able to finance Super Bowl 53. The private-public partnership was the game changer. And the city’s business people will have no regrets as they will most certainly recoup their investments with huge revenues expected in the next two weeks as the world focuses on the battle for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. And the figures are obscene!

For instance, charges for a 30-second commercial television spot during the live broadcast of the Super Bowl are expected to exceed $6 million (Sh600 million).

The average price for a single ticket is $5,000 (Sh500,000) with the cheapest expected to sell at $4,000 (Sh400,000) at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium which will have a capacity of just over 75,000 for the match.

Accommodation prices are also through the roof with average room prices away from the venue (hotels close to the stadium are all taken) being about $300 (Sh30,000), almost four times as much as normal prices. Locals seeking to cash in on the big game are charging up to $1,000 (Sh100,000) a night for a room in their homes, and, most certainly, Atlanta will reap big.

While a huge economy like USA’s depends on private-public partnerships, it’s foolhardy that we expect Treasury to foot the entire, Sh2.4 billion required to host a successful IAAF World Under-20 championship next July. While the Mercedes-Benz Stadium continues to change Atlanta’s fortunes, our Kasarani stadium is in self-destruct mode.

It’s only by laying attractive ground for private businesses – including tax incentives – that we can ease pressure off the exchequer by creating formidable partnerships that will make the nascent Sports Fund’s bank balances worth writing home about.