Sept 20 2006
Whereas it is highly unlikely that Kenya Rugby will go professional anytime soon, it is imperative that the KRFU start putting in place the building blocks for a professional league. Successful professional leagues are those that can consistently draw large crowds. With large crowds and spectator interest comes TV revenue and sponsorship, assuming the league is run professionally.
In order for league to consistently draw decent crowds, it has to have fans who are genuinely attached to their respective teams. Genuine fans will come to the stadium regularly to support their teams even when the team is performing poorly. Successful leagues cannot count on fair weather fans.
A few years back, the Kenya Rugby Football Union introduced the Super 4 series which is played annually. In the tournament, Kenyan rugby clubs are divided into 4 franchises which are then pitted against each other. This tournament is a good idea in principle. The problem is that it cannot really draw large crowds. Fans simply do not have any reason to form an attachment to any of the 4 franchises.
A better idea would be to divide the city of Nairobi into 3 divisions. Each division should have a super 4 Franchise representing it. The 4th super 4 Franchise should represent upcountry teams i.e Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu and the rest of the country outside of Nairobi.
Fans will then form an attachment to each team since it is the team representing their region. This way people will have a reason become passionate about 1 of the teams. A person who lives in the Southern part of Nairobi e.g. Langata or South B will gladly root for a team called Nairobi South Cheetahs. But as things stand now, peoplehave no reason to root for a team generically called cheetahs or Lions or obohoz for that matter.
As things stand today, Kenyan rugby clubs have such a limited fan base that they will never go professional. Lets be realistic. How many real Mwamba damu exist ? Who supports really Nondies ?
The Super 4 has had some success in drawing sponsors. If such Franchises were created to represent specific geographical locations, more fans would be drawn to the games and hence more sponsors.
This is what works in rugby. The only country’s that has a successful professional club system is England and France. The club system never worked for the other home Nations or SA or NZ or Oz. Its difficult for a fan to be passionate about Mwamba because the club does not represent him in any way.
The best way to build a committed fan base for each team is to target school age children who are very impressionable. The local team and the clubs should be marketed aggressively to primary school children. As they grow up these children will begin to form a genuine attachment to their respective teams. They will likely keep that loyalty when they become adults. This is how fans become passionate about there teams.
Building a fan base in this way is effective but takes a very long time. Patience and a long term plan are essential. Kenya will not have a professional league any time soon. But what the KRFU owes fans now is to put the building blocks in place, so that Kenya has a professional league in 10 years.
Once the league has a large base of fans sponsors will flock to the sport. The media will cover the sport more closely thus giving it even publicity. Fans will pay annual subscriptions which will make them members with voting rights.
When you have a Franchise system you can hire a General Manager whose main brief is to come up with ideas on how to market the team and thus increase its membership & fan base. At the end of the season, the GMs performance will be evaluated based on how many club members he has added, whether he obtains sponsorship, how many tickets he sells and so forth. Performance contracts for such managers are critical. If the GM is not reaching his set target then his contract must be terminated. All you have to do is look at Europe & USA to see how teams increase their fan base: Ever wonder why players visit schools to sign autographs and teach kids, do dozens of interviews, make themselves accessible to fans, do community projects etc ? These are all public relations activities mandated by the teams General manager and sponsors.