NAIROBI, Kenya, June 26- After playing a key role in entrenching SuperSport on the local map, the new head of rival Zuku Sports, Gary Rathbone, is relishing the opportunity of continuing his vision of making Kenya a hub of sporting activity in his fresh position.
Speaking to Capital Sport on Wednesday, Rathbone was however, quick to state his appointment was not done to gain leverage over his former employers on the domestic satellite television subscriber market but it was meant to expand the horizons for local sports to harness its full potential.
“I like to think the time I spent here in Kenya I was really excited about the potential for sports here, what we could achieve and did achieve I was proud with the progress we made with SuperSport.
“I’m glad to get an opportunity to come again and continue with the mission I have always had which is to develop the potential of Kenyan and East Africa sport and that is what I’m getting with Zuku,” he stated.
On his work plan for his new office, the former Head of Africa at SuperSport underscored, “We are looking at a much broader approach to local sports, not just about football. There is a real feeling we need to engage with sport across the board.
“There is a huge opportunity around local sport and that is my message to broadcasters and it is fitting that I’m now getting a chance with a broadcaster that shares that vision.”
The TV boss who is attending the BFMA Conference in Nairobi before taking up his appointment on July 1 added:
“My aim is Zuku Sports can engage ordinary Kenyans and people across East Africa more directly around sport. We are never going to compete with huge money rights out there but it doesn’t mean we cannot start engage people at conversation level
“There is a conversation about sport that people want to have and we can play a role in driving that conversation.”
Having worked under the behemoth that is SuperSport who have taken local sporting action to hitherto uncharted waters on a continental platform through live coverage of football, rugby and now basket ball, Rathbone stressed that Zuku had the capability of commanding similar market share despite the presumed might of their competitors.
“Don’t underestimate the penetration Zuku have. When I came in DSTv in 2008, it had just over 35,000 subscribers and the numbers grew over time. Zuku has almost as many subscribers as well.
“One might want to separate the brand of SuperSport from the penetration it has. Everyone knows the brand and everyone sees the games on TV but the actual penetration is not that high,” he explained.
Nonetheless, he pointed out he was not on a path to take on his former employers head on.
“To me, the exciting space is the free to air broadcasters since to me that is where the eyeballs are. SuperSport has very deep pockets and we can’t compete with them. To me it’s not about money, it’s about the vision, the will and living to make the difference and we have those in place.
You can have the deepest pockets and still fail to capture people’s imagination if you do not have the right vision and strategy.”
Rathbone pointed out Kenyan sport stood to benefit by the entry of more satellite broadcasters on the scene.
“It’s not about watching the action but having the space where people talk about the action before, during and after the games. It’s about becoming part of the conversation people are having about the sport and it’s about having the space to do that and becoming part of the conversation by creating programmes where people can do that and become more interactive.
“For me the most important thing about Zuku is that live Broadband is part of their roll out plan and that will be the significant thing when broadband begins to reach more people with fibre connections, we can have lot of room to play in that conversation space.”
He explained the net effect to the country’s sports-persons who have for years been scraping the barrel if the right vision was followed through.
“One thing we have in Kenya is the range of sporting interest is broad and varied. This is a nation of sports people with a range of activities going on. I think what is going to happen is because of the economic situation, a lot more business are looking to reach a growing consumer market.
“Sport is a great platform to use to reach that consumer market; I see business becoming more engaged in sports and sponsorship and looking for sports to get behind.
“This will start driving smaller sports and lifting their profile and they will start having more money in them, more coverage and in turn, it will get more people wanting to play them. That spiral will drive sport in Kenya and that is what I want to see.”
Rathbone will be largely based in Nairobi but will be shuttling between the Kenyan capital and London where the head offices of Zuku parent company are based.