Sports sponsorship can more often than not only be driven by one of two things; a commercial decision or a philanthropic act. A cold tusker for anyone who is not sure what EABL’s incentive was in sponsoring the Safari Sevens tournament.
For love or money?
Let’s just say for the sake of argument that EABL’s sponsorship of the sevens tournament was philanthropic, then don’t you think we might have seen more of an effort on EABL’s part to develop the sport; to develop the RFUEA grounds; to support the local sevens circuit; something? And no, Tusker did not increase the popularity of the sevens version of the game in the country; the national sevens team did. The only thing that EABL and their Tusker brand succeeded in doing was increasing the popularity of the safari village with the endless flow of tuskers and late night parties.
So did KRFU benefit from this partnership? Of course they did. With the funding they were able to host what is most likely the highlight of the KRFU calendar each year for thirteen years. They made a healthy sum in gate collections and they managed to put Kenya on the world map in so far as world class tournaments are concerned. But take into account the money spent by KRFU to get ‘star teams’ here, where EABL didn’t pitch in, accommodation costs for teams, payment of service providers and so on, and may be you can begin to realise that the spoils weren’t as lucrative as we sometimes made them out to be. No doubt the tournament made a profit but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t much to speak of. They could have done a lot more with the opportunity they had.
Milking the ‘cash cow’
Who better to understand a rugby market and fraternity than a rugby governing body? I would like to think that the underscoring factor put into consideration when signing the initial deal with EABL was not how easy it would be to provide beer to the rugby fans. There must have been a grand plan in place to make the most of the opportunity; a plan that went well beyond hosting the safaris sevens tournament. You know, like a long term plan so that when KRFU looked back in ten years they could see tangible benefits of having hosted a great tournament successfully for several years? What was the goal and was it attained is what I’d like to know. If it was attained then well in and adios Tusker, you served your purpose! But if there was a plan that is not any closer to being achieved than it was ten years ago, then dear KRFU, EABL just screwed you.
No debate needed about whether or not EABL milked their cash cow. They sold beer. Period.
Generally, and perhaps more so with sports, sponsorships raise awareness among consumers. Consumers will see an association between the product and the sport. Rugby elevated the status of Tusker for rugby fans.
The danger for KRFU is that the rugby brand and Tusker became inextricably linked and this probably turned off other target markets for the sport. The challenge now would be to repackage rugby and disassociate the Safari Sevens with drunken weekends and underage bingeing.
End of the road?
There are many tales about what happened where that led to the termination of the contract; that someone somewhere is flexing muscles or that someone is ‘a woman scorned’. I personally, for diplomacy’s sake have chosen to go with the Elgon Cup-what’s-in-the-contract-and-what’s-not-in-the-contract-story.
This is the definitely the end of the road for EABL and rugby. But I think that it is just the beginning for KRFU. This is a much awaited chance to get serious and explore this tournament to its full potential. It is a chance to start a fresh, with experience gained and develop an equally beneficial relationship with safari sevens sponsors. And rebrand rugby in Kenya.