by Jessica Redding
In the last week of June, two English football teams signed totally different deals with African businesses. Last week Sunderland football club signed a sponsorship deal with Invest in Africa and a few days later, London-based Arsenal signed a deal with telecom giant, Bharti Airtel. Each of these deals is different, so let’s look at each one in turn then consider their implications.
In the Northeast of England Sunderland are looking to not just survive in the topflight of English football, but also to thrive. Under Marin O’Neil they have a quality manager with a proven track record. All they need is finance. With this in mind, their American owner has partnered up with Invest in Africa, to sponsor their shirts. A not-for-profit group, Invest in Africa.
This is not the first tie up for Sunderland on the continent. They have a number of African international players such as John Mensah, Sephane Sessegnon and Ahmed Elmohamady. They also have ties with Ghanaian club Asante Kotoko, but this is the first time they have signed a business deal on the continent. Invest in Africa are linked to Tullow Oil, is seeking to prove that Africa is the ideal location for inward investment.
The second deal between Arsenal and Bharti Airtel is different. The London-based club already have shirt, club and stadium sponsors in the shape of Fly Emirates. They are, however, looking to develop their brand across Africa and have decided that Airtel are the best way to do this.
The deal allows Airtel to make use of the team’s merchandise in Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia. Fans will get exclusive content on their mobile phones and can enter competitions to win tickets to see Arsenal play pre-season tour of Nigeria later this month.
In the past, European football clubs have been accused of almost pillaging Africa’s football talent. For every Didier Drogba or Jay Jay Okocha there has been dozens if not hundreds of footballers with potential who never made the grade. They have been accused of treating the kids almost as assets and not as human beings. That if the kid turns out good they will continuing investing in him, but if not, he is left high and dry with nowhere to go. It has been a problem that many people are worrying about.
Luckily, football is changing its attitude in this respect. It is natural for football clubs to treat players as assets to be bought and sold, but they are also now looking after people as individuals too by providing education and help getting set up as non-footballers. The direct impact of the Arsenal tie up with Airtel is that the club will aid the mobile network’s Rising Stars programme that seeks to get good young players mentoring from professional European coaches. Such official programmes are the best way to develop young talent outside of the professional club system rather than relying upon unscrupulous agents.
Invest in Africa, on the other hand, is all about the serious trading of assets. For oil companies like those that are the financial muscle behind the venture, buying and selling assets helps to develop them as a business. The Africa side of the deal is being sold as a chance to invest money into African business. If this directly aids the development of African businesses and economies, this is a welcome development.
There are few problems with the Arsenal-Airtel tie up. Non-governmental organizations in both the UK and Africa are worried about Invest in Africa and particularly their backers. The argument is that the oil company is trying to put a positive spin on its activities through the not for profit Invest in Africa. They also believe it is designed to distract attention away from its secretive contracts with a number of African governments.
One organization, for example, has pointed out the effects of big oil in Ghana on small coastal businesses. According to the Independent, Platform believes the oil rigs off the coast have disrupted small fishing businesses due to exclusion zones around the rigs. There is also a belief that Tullow Oil’s projects are about perception rather than substance and have not been integrated with communities enough. With this increased publicity and a corresponding increase in scrutiny, let’s hope that the deals do prove beneficial for both African businesses and Africa in general.