Kenya Rugby should emulate Wimbledon’s brand building

While watching Andrew Murray make quick work of Milos Raonic during the men’s final of Wimbledon 2016, I was amazed at the tension there was around the room during the tie break. I can only imagine that the intensity was the same across the world while the avid, occasional and sporadic fans watched the climax of the worlds top tennis event.

The first Wimbledon tournament 139 year ago was watched by 200 people who paid 25 cents each. Last year 484,391 fans watched the tournament live with an average 15 minute reach of 29.9 million on TV, 71 million website visits and an audience of 8.5 million on social media. Being British, there was a total of 330,000 cups of tea and coffee served, and as an upper-crust experience, there was a total of 28,000 kilograms of Grade 1 Kent strawberries consumed. The average Wimbledon viewer wouldn’t give two hoots about these statistics, but what is notable to marketers and sports managers is the fact that the tennis courts are devoid of sponsor advertising. It’s also surprising to note that the broadcast is free on the BBC which doesn’t carry any advertising either. So why do our Kenyan sporting organisations insist on having a title sponsor for every major event?

Perhaps its a matter of putting the cart before the horse. Rather than spend the time demanded for building a strong sporting-event brand, the responsibility is handed over to the highest bidder, who’s interests in promoting their own brands stand above the altruistic desire to promote the sport and it’s athletes. So much so that it all came to a head at a Safari Sevens event when the title sponsor, the major network provider, and the former title sponsor, the potent brewer, met after the finals to provide a post match contest of legendary proportions. The spectators to this one time event, Kenya Rugby (the event organisers), got the best seats in the house, as the two sponsors went through a bruising battle.

Down the road, the unsponsored Muthaiga Police Division anticipated animated traffic at the Kasarani Sports Stadium and made room at their facility because they expected a very busy weekend. They made arrangements to meet with joyous fans driving back towards the central business district on Thika Super Highway each day after the event. The officers came along with their latest gadgets, Alcoblow, and their friends, the NTSA (National Transport and Safety Authority), NACADA (National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse), and various media houses. Needless to say, that year the Safari Sevens got unprecedented media coverage, but all for the wrong reasons.

The Americans don’t shy away from sponsorship advertising the way the Brits do with Wimbeldon, but instead they embrace it with both arms. However, their organisers don’t hawk the event title for sponsorship, though everything else will be branded; the stadium, the seats, the floor, the turf, the give-away t-shirts, caps and sunglasses, to significant items like broadcasting rights. At the last NBA game I watched, McDonald’s offered a free burger to everyone in the arena as long as the Chicago Bulls won the game and scored over a hundred points, which they did, and which made me a happy, lip-smacking, camper.

When we take closer look at the major international sporting events we see brand building initiatives that are the envy of CMOs across the globe. The event is developed to contain a powerful brand essence that has a deeper meaning in society than just the outward appearance. In this they demand excellence from the athletes who are expected to bring their utmost best to the field and compete with others who have equally done so. In the same vein, they ensure that they provide an extraordinary environment for the athletes who are the main reason any fan would attend. The development of the sport and the playing environment is perfected over time as Rome was not built in a day.

Once the ingredients for an outstanding performance have been thrown into the pot, they then proceed to promote the event using advertising techniques that have stood the test of time, pulling at the heart-strings of the fan base and raising expectations of the final outcome. Global advertising expenditures show significant spikes around major sporting events such as the Olympics and the World Cup, as brands join in the fray to boost their visibility among an already engaged audience.

Lastly, they create a memorable fan experience that drives excitement right from the plans to attend, to buying the tickets, to arriving at the venue, and the entertainment in the stadium, which lead up to a climax at the finals. The TV and online audiences recreate this excitement at home or in public areas such are restaurants, bars, parks and squares.

Wimbledon and other premier international sporting events demonstrate that it takes time, dedication and continuity to build up a global fan base that loves the sport and are unconditional advocates for it. Indeed it is a sterling example of inclusive brand building that is based on the customers need, creates an environment where the athletes perform at the highest levels and drives the organisers to push the envelope with regards to perfecting the overall experience.

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