Coca Cola deal: What's in a name?

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NAIROBI, May 20 – There is no predicting Kenyan sports, is there?NYAYO_NATIONAL_STADIUMJust when you think the sport is finally moving forward, you get a bolt that startles you back to the same old murk.

February’s announcement that Coca Cola would pay Sh118 million over the next three years for the naming rights to Nyayo National Stadium was seen as a huge step forward -a sign that Kenya was finally moving into the modern era where stadia generate revenue from naming rights.

But months later, the government has backed out of the deal saying that it was not properly brokered.

Minister for Sports Hellen Sambili on Tuesday stated that they had agreed with Coke to nullify the deal and start renegotiations.

Coke’s reaction was predictable; having been turned down, they have opted out.

This comes hot on the heels of the replacement of Sports Stadia Management Board (SSMB) CEO Sam Mwai whose contract was not renewed with the minister appointing Benjamin Sugomo – effectively shrouding the procedure for contract renewals in controversy.

Mrs Sambili maintains that she was not briefed on the deal and went as a far as insinuating that Mwai and the Board chairman Joe Aketch had kept the government in the dark while negotiating the deal.

This, she said, was unacceptable adding that renaming Nyayo stadium to Coca Cola was erasing a big part of Kenya’s national heritage.

First, is it really possible for such a deal to have been sealed without government knowledge? Doesn’t the Commissioner of Sports sit on the SSMB board?

Secondly, even if the deal was skewed, wouldn’t it have been prudent to seek a quiet way of resolving the situation? The bitter exchange between the minister and Aketch in the full glare of the media was revealing.

It was an exchange they should have had off camera though it provided comic relief.

By selling off the rights, Nyayo was going to make some money for itself. In addition, Coke was going to undertake renovations at the stadium and upgrading its facilities.

In an era where the stadia rarely make money, the deal seemed a sensible way of ensuring long term revenue. Yes, Sh118 million may not be much but it was a good place to start.

And while we may frown at the deal because of the fear of losing our heritage, what do we gain by reverting to its old name –Nyayo? Sure heritage, but will it be worth Sh118 million in hard cash within three years?

Selling naming rights is the norm worldwide.

In South Africa, Ellis Park – widely regarded as the home of rugby – recently changed its name to Coca Cola Park after a similar naming rights deal.

In England, Arsenal football club sold the naming rights for their new stadium. Initially known as Ashburton Grove, Emirates paid up 100 million pounds to have it named Emirates stadium for the first 15 years.

Bolton sold the naming rights for their stadium to Reebok who are long term sponsors.

Wigan’s home turf is known as the JJB stadium after a chain of businesses owned by the club’s chairman and it is scheduled to change to DW stadium in August 2009.

So in principle, SSMB was on the right track but unfortunately, Kenya will again be left lagging behind, just like we were left behind in early nineties as football became big business.

Madam Sambili, we need a rethink here.

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