Category Archives: Sports business

Safari Rally return Postponed

Today was supposed to be the start of the return of the Safari Rally after several years of preparation had resulted in an announcement by the President of Kenya and the WRC in September 2019 that the race was back. 

The Safari Rally was legendary as being one of the WRC’s (World Rally Championship) toughest rounds with a route, at about 5,000 kilometres, that was twice as long as other rallies. It used to be run around Easter, which is usually the long rain season, and in some years, showers would transform dry, dusty trails into mud baths.

It was run over four or five days and nights, on open roads that drew in more hazards, such as encounters with other motorists and wildlife and all these ensured that a Safari win was one of motorsport’s most coveted prizes for drivers, teams, and car manufacturers.

But rallying has not aged well in the era of modern TV and having drivers race for several days and nights on open remote roads means it is tough to sell the action to a global television audience.

This years’ rally, that was set to take place between July 16 – 19, and now been pushed to 2021, had evolved to fit the modern-day WRC. It is organised by the WRC Safari Rally Project, a joint venture between Kenya’s Sports Ministry and the Kenya Motor Sports Federation to return the Safari to the WRC calendar which it had been dropped from in 2002.

But its Safari character remains, with racing on challenging dirt roads,  with picturesque African scenes. It was to be based in Nairobi with the service park and stages on closed roads in the Hells Gate National Park and around Lakes Naivasha and Elementaita in the Great Rift Valley.

Before the Coronavirus shut down world travel, it was expected to feature several, if not all of the current top WRC teams and cars. These include the Hyundai i20, Ford Fiesta, Citroen C3, Toyota Yaris, and others from Skoda and Volkswagen that are all 4WD cars with 1.6-litre turbo engines able to reach 200 kilometres per hour.

Here is a Pinterest series of older WRC Safari rally pictures.  

Other:

  • Kenya has an annual local rally series sponsored by banking giant, the KCB Group.
  • There has also been a classic safari rally series featuring older rally cars. sponsored for many years by Kenya Airways, and more recently by Safaricom, it took racers around East Africa in the grand old style of the 1960’s rallies.

EDIT Oct 9, 2020: Kenya’s iconic Safari Rally and Japan, which were both included in this year’s schedule but cancelled due to the pandemic, are on the 2021 WRC calendar. Kenya is slotted for 24 – 27 June, 2021 as the WRC returns to Africa for the first time since 2002.

Guide to the Mexican Grand Prix

A guest post by Linda Kamau who has travelled from Nairobi to watch the Formula 1 Gran Premio De Mexico for two years in a row (2018 and 2019).

Getting there: For both trips, I have flown Emirates via Dubai and the USA. A ticket bought early will cost you between $1,200 – $1,500, but if you buy later, it may cost up to $2,500.

For both trips I have gone a week or two early and flown to Cancun then later got into Mexico City the weekend of the Grand Prix, flying on Interjet or JetBlue. In 2018 I did Nairobi – Dubai – New York – Mexico and in 2019, I did Nairobi – Dubai – Florida – Mexico. Using either of the flight legs will take a total of about 30 hours to get to Mexico.

For the visa, if you hold a valid US, UK or Japan visa then you do not need to apply for a Mexican visa. For both trips, I have not had to apply for a Mexican visa, as I hold five-year visas for both the UK and US.

As I always say, if you are transiting through JFK or Heathrow, ensure your flight connection is not less than 2 hours as the immigration queues can get quite long which might cause you to miss your flight.

Arriving at Benito JuĂĄrez International Airport, you are welcomed with images of F1 drivers just after baggage pickup. This is a circuit loved by many so there are a lot of people arriving for the race weekend, and immigration can take longer to clear.

An important thing to note, you have to fill in a landing card and once the immigration officer has stamped your passport, they give it back to you with a small part of the landing card that you will need to show when exiting the country. Losing it will cost you 300 Pesos, equivalent to $35.

Getting Around: Uber and Lyft are your friends here. They are way more affordable than regular taxis and can take cash too (Uber cash exists here). Mexico City is big, really big and it is not advisable to just walk around.

The local currency is called the Peso. The exchange rate versus the dollar averages at $1 = 18.10 pesos. Credit cards work but there is a general rule, to not withdraw money from just any ATM. If you have to withdraw, do it at an ATM in the bank. ATM fraud is rampant in Mexico.

Where to Stay: Due to how big the city is, traffic can be crazy. Therefore it is advisable to stay close to the race track (the AutĂłdromo Hermanos RodrĂ­guez circuit) which is also close to the airport and can save you time for both going for the race and arriving and leaving Mexico city. In 2018, I used booking.com and stayed at Camino Real ($400 for 3 nights). But in 2019, because I was booking late, the same hotel now cost an arm and a leg. So I took a less expensive one – Hotel Hollywood Villas. The cost was $200 for 3 nights, and it was a ten-minute walk to the track.

What to Eat: Tacos, tacos and more tacos. Every corner you turn to, there is a restaurant selling tacos, other Mexican dishes and Tequila. I believe this is taken any time of day as there is no rule to Tequila, Mexicans just love their Tequila. I enjoy Mexican food so I did not get close to any McDonald’s or any other international restaurants, but they are in plenty.

Staying in Touch: As is my rule, immediately I land in a new country, I find the next SIM card store. Data/connectivity comes first even before that vital shower after a long trip. In Mexico, it’s advisable to get Telcel, it’s the largest network and very reliable. It will cost you about 20 pesos with 50 pesos airtime which totals to 70 pesos ($4). You can recharge at a store or you can do that online if you understand the Spanish on the Telcel web page.

Shopping & Sight-Seeing: In the city, you can go see Our Lady of Guadalupe, the largest Cathedral after the one in the Vatican. It’s quite a tourist attraction but also a great marvel of architecture.

With Mexico being so far away from Kenya, it would make sense to add in a vacation and see more of the coastal side. I have spent time in Cancun, Tulum and Playa Del Carmen and if I were to choose I would go back to Playa Del Carmen. It’s calm, less touristy and you are close to both the beach and city life. There is also the Chitchen Iza (pyramid ruins) and all the Cenotes (naturally occurring sinkholes) in the islands.

I did sample the nightlife in Mexico City with local friends I made after the 2018 GP. We are now F1 buddies, and we sync our trips and plan to attend the newly-added Grand Prix in Miami in 2021. We spent a night dancing salsa at a Cuban joint called Mama Rumba. It was fascinating to watch both the old and young dance – salsa is for all and so is the club.

Race Day: The race is at 1:10 p.m. but that is quite late for Kenya as it’s an 8- hour time difference – so adjust your body clock. It can get quite humid even though October is the rainy season in Mexico. It sometimes rains for an hour and then quickly goes back to being humid.

In 2018 I got a seat at the Grada 4 Grandstand; this is in the area where the cars make their second turn and you have a great view of most of the circuit including the Grandstand. The 2018 race saw Lewis Hamilton clinch his fifth title in Mexico and he did some spins in his Mercedes for the crowds after. Grada 4 gives you that thrill and also you get to enjoy the after-party as you can hear and see the DJ.

Race Tickets: For my first visit, I had bought my ticket on the F1 website which cost $460 for the 3-day package. On practice day I went to pick my ticket from the ticket station at the Circuit. It is advisable to attend on all the three days, as you get to familiarize yourself with the location of the track and especially which gate you will use to go in and which side of the circuit you will be sitting on during the race.

In 2019, my Mexican friends bought the tickets and we got to sit on the side where you see the cars as they start the race just before turn 1. It was nice to watch home crowd cheering Sergio Perez ‘Checo’ and he delivered his best race for his fans after a tight fight with Daniel Ricciardo.

In both of these Mexican Grand Prix races, Mercedes were not the favourites even though in 2018 Hamilton just needed to finish top-six to clinch the title, which he did. Ferrari’s strategy got the better of them again in 2019 and Hamilton took advantage and went on to win the race getting him closer to his sixth driver’s championship.

Also, see this other 2019 F1 race trip report – A Guide to Baku, Azerbaijan.

Ineos 1:59

Today Kenya stood still, and the world watched as Eliud Kipchoge ran a specially staged marathon in Vienna Austria completing it in under two hours. The event dubbed “Ineos 1:59” was an unprecedented partnership event, backed by British chemical company Ineos and its billionaire Chairman,  Jim Ratcliffe.

Kipchoge ran the 42 kilometre-length course on a time of 1 hour 59 minutes and 40 seconds, dipping under the two-hour mark for the first time in marathon history. This was his second attempt at breaking the milestone mark. He had tried this in May 2017 and come 25 seconds short in another special run at the historic Monza Formula One track in Italy. That was in a project supported by Nike, dubbed “Breaking2.”

Eliud Kipchoge is currently the world record holder for the marathon with a time of 2:01:39 that he set at the 2018 Berlin marathon. He is also the reigning Olympic champion (2016 Rio games), and at 34 years old, has won 12 of 13 competitive marathons he has entered since 2013 including the London marathon four times, and the Berlin marathon three times.

Also used in support of the Ineos 1:59 challenge was an electric-powered Audi SUV, driven at a constant pace throughout the race, that projected laser beams to guide Kipchoge and his rotating team of forty-one elite pacesetters from across the world – Japan, Australia, Switzerland, Turkey, USA, Uganda, Ethiopia, and several of his Kenyan compatriots

Local brands that have supported Kipchoge include Safaricom and Isuzu East Africa who signed him up as a brand ambassador in September 2017.  And last week, Safaricom changed its M-Pesa brand to read “Eliud 1:59” for seven days and rolled out a free 1.59 gigabyte data bundle to enable Kenyans to watch Kipchoge’s run on their phones or their home devices via YouTube.  It is reported that over 3 million subscribers signed up for the special data bundle. 

Sports betting on ice as Sportpesa and Betin shut down in Kenya

On the last Saturday of September 2019, top sports betting companies, Sportpesa and Betin, separately announced an effective end of their operations in Kenya.

Sportpesa posted a statement on their site saying that Kenyan tax administrators had misunderstood revenue generation in the betting industry  – and that the company would halt all brand operations in Kenya as a result. Earlier, Sportpesa management, without citing  numbers, had said that they had settled all matters with Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), but have still been unable to obtain renewal of their license from the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB)

Then last week on Wednesday, Sportpesa moved to lay off about 400 employees.

Meanwhile, Gamcode (trading as Betin Kenya) also issued a memo to all employees terminating their jobs as the company had not been operating since July 2019. They said they had been trying to resolve for three month’s as such all jobs would end on October 31.

Betin had several big media campaigns with Kenyan soccer star McDonald Mariga, who has unexpectedly stepped into politics and is now in the middle of campaigns to take up the vacant Parliamentary seat for Kibra constituency, following the death of popular MP, Ken Okoth.

By now, with the English Premier League on, local sports pages would have full-page colour advertisements of weekend and mid-week match betting odds and jackpot opportunities. Sportpesa also had significant spending in Europe sponsoring the Racing Point Formula One  team and Everton in the UK premier league and those teams still adorn  Sportpesa brands.

The claims of banning sports betting have been varied, with their destructive influence on young Kenyans, tax evasion and money laundering at different forums. Even a former Chairman of the Betting Control and Licensing Board, Kimani Kung’u, questioned whether non-payment and non-compliance with taxes was behind the freeze on the top betting companies.

In an interview with Radio Jambo in July, Kung’u said that the revenue of betting companies at the end of 2018 was between Sh20 billion and Sh25 billion and that there is no way that could have risen to Sh200 billion by mid-2019.‹

There have been three groups of companies: The group of 26 companies that were banned in July 2019 included: Mozzartbet, Sportybet SportPesa (Pevans E A Ltd), Betyetu (Oxygen & Gaming EA Ltd), Betin (Gamcode Ltd), Betway (Blue Jay Ltd), Easibet (Dreamcall Ltd), Betpawa (Gaming International Ltd), Betboss (White Rhino Ventures Ltd), Elitebet (Seal Capital Ltd), Dafa bet (Asian Betting & Gaming Ltd), Lucky 2 U, Cheza Cash (Sekunde Technologies), Palmsbet (Advanced Innovation Ltd), 1X Bet (Advanced Gaming Ltd), Saharabet (Sahara Game Technology Ltd), Bungabet (Galaxy Betting Ltd), Kick Off (Kick Off Sports Bar Ltd), Kenya Sports Bet, Eastleighbet (G&P Trading), and Premier Bet Ltd.

Those reportedly cleared later by KRA in July 2019 include Mozoltbet, East bet,  Lucky 2u, Eazi Bet, Kick off, Eastleighbet, Palms Bet, Bet boss, Betway, OdiBets, Mozzartbet and Ken Bookmakers.

Those xleared in August 2019 include Oyster, CityBet/EAF Galaxy, Shop & Deliver, Kareco, Playco, GrayHoldings/GameCo/Shabiki, NZ Mobile, Cheza Gaming, Hanstaunton Technologies/LottoCoLLP, and Zumabdu/Betlion.

None of the relicensed firms appears, so far, to have the impact and reach of Betin and Sportpesa.

Winners from the shutdown:

  • Moses Kemibaro has done a nice piece about the impact that the ban on Sportpesa and Betin has had on their web traffic and that of the other companies that have come to benefit from new betting activities, including Betika. He writes that “The biggest winners from Kenya’s sports betting armageddon are undoubtedly Betika, Odibets, MozzartBet Kenya and Kwikbet Kenya who have grown massively in terms of audiences and traffic during the last couple of months.”
  • The Internal Security Minister has said that Kshs 200 billion that was previously leaving the country through sports betting firms, is now being spent locally, boosting the local economy.

Losers from the shutdown include:

  • Media companies and newspapers: Gambling companies were among the top advertising spenders in the country up till this year. They would have about two color pages in all the newspapers, radio & TV ads, and several billboards across town. But as of this weekend, the newspapers are devoid of the advertisements except for small ones by Mozzartbet (for a 10 million jackpot for 50 shillings) and Betika (register and bet via USSD, with no data bundle required for a 100 million jackpot for 49 shillings). 
  • The Kenya Premier League, which is limping since it lacks a top sponsor. Sportpesa had stepped in after Supersport had pulled out in protest at an ill-advised decision by the league to increase the number of participating teams from 16 to 18.
  • Telcos: Bettors and betting companies generated messages with every bet that incurred fees and bets were settled by mobile money payments. While companies are considering cards as a payment option, that is a minority that lags compared to mobile money usage.

EDIT Oct 11 2019: 

Betin Kenya released a statement, saying that they, as a company, were fully tax-compliant, and that the betting industry had collectively paid Kshs 10 billon ($100 million) in taxes in 2018, but that the government had refused to renew its license, causing it to lay off its staff and shut down its retail outlets.

EDIT: Jan 14 2020

Betway announced a three year sponsorship of a soccer tournament that will feature 48 teams.

Africa: Sports as a Business and a Brand

At the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, the visual imagery of almost-empty stadiums is a powerful narrative. But not the kind that African sports, African football, or corporate sponsors deserve.

The empty seat syndrome suggests that football fans are voting with their feet, or better still with their backsides. Fans are choosing not to watch live football events, and instead are opting in increasing numbers for the ‘intimacy’ of their crystal clear digital flat TV screens, or not all.

Before Egypt’s stunning 0-1 loss to South Africa in the round of 16, the host country was the only team able to attract 70,000 fans. Other than when Mo Salah and the Pharaohs have been on the field, most stadia across Egypt have at best attracted an average of 5,000 to 7,000 fans.

Official broadcast camera crews have done a creative job minimizing the visual gaps of empty seats. But wide camera angles reveal the obvious … a lack of attendance and public enthusiasm, in spite of the presence of some of the biggest names in world football on the field.

In European football leagues, where many of the stars in Egypt ply their trade, fans pay mega bucks to see the likes of John Mikel Obi, Ahmed Musa, Sadio Mane, Ryahd Mahrez, Nicolas Pépé, Wilfred, Zaha, and Kalidou Koulibaly.

Which is why the empty seats in Egypt are both stunning.

Admittedly, Egypt bailed CAF out and should receive well-deserved credit for coming to the rescue and hosting the African Cup of Nations, with barely 6 months notice, when the original hosts were sanctioned due to shoddy preparations.

Nevertheless, the lack of attendance in Egypt speaks volumes high ticket costs; the timing of matches bang in the middle of work days; the difficulties faced by national team supporters in obtaining entry visas to Egypt; and challenges with the Confederation of African Football’s complicated online ticket purchasing system.

It should not be so. This after all, is the most important event in Africa’s sports calendar. At least, it used to be before England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A, and Germany’s Bundesliga captured our collective imaginations.

The end result is that where once 30,000 to 70,000 fans a week watched highly competitive domestic football leagues across Africa, the empty seat syndrome has been the norm for almost two decades. It is not unusual to have less than a thousand fans in a stadium that seats 30,000.

The lack of fan attendance has obvious economic and financial implications across the sports value chain for team owners, sports federations and confederations, players, sponsors, advertising and marketing agencies, merchandisers, vendors, and local communities who once counted on fan attendance to boost fledgling economies.

What’s responsible for the increasing slide in fan attendance?

1. Poor facilities
2. High ticket costs
3. A lack of reliable transportation to and from venues. As well as sufficient and secure parking.
4. Increasingly crude behaviour and violence at event locations.
5. Technology. Mobile phones and Apps that carry events live as well as a plethora of entertainment alternatives. In other words, once big events are no longer the main gigs in town.

So, what can be done to reverse the trend? Here are 5 quick suggestions.

1. It can no longer be business as usual. Africa must run sports as a professional business. This includes the right infrastructure, training facilities, attractive pay scales for professional athletes who now consider anything less than a European league appearance, a professional failure.

Regrettably, as with Africa’s overall propensity to simply export raw materials instead of adding value to what we produce, we are doing the same with football and many other sports. Africa has a tremendous abundance of potential talent that for the most part (with the exception of South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia) we add little or no value to. Instead, millions of genetically blessed athletes are simply waiting or begging to be ‘found’ on the cheap by European and American sports teams. Why? Simply because we fail to see diamonds in the rough and because we are unable to add value to the potential of what for now seems to be rough stones.

2. Modern and professionally maintained facilities: In sizzling hot Africa, we must invest in covered stadia. When I can sit in front of my big screen TV in my air-conditioned living room, why would I want to subject myself to temperatures that I swear have gone up a number of notches in recent years?

3. Sport is a spectacle. This includes everything including pre-event and half time entertainment to keep fans with short attention spans upbeat and engaged.

4. Give back to the fans: Essentially, engagement in the 21st century must change. It’s time to give something back to fans rather than fleecing them at every opportunity with sub-standard services and products. It would seem to me that sports teams could offer something as simple as raffle draws that reward fans with extra game tickets, signed player jerseys, visits with select players, or products from local sponsors. Professional marketing firms can come up with an endless list.

5. Make sports big and make it a win-win proposition:  Real Madrid F.C. and Barcelona F.C. for example, are not owned by a few rich individuals. Instead, they are owned and supported by thousands of shareholders known as ‘socios.’ Across Africa, it’s time to change the numbers game – in ownership, money, and attendance – by giving fans a seat at the table.

These are just a few quick ideas. However, the running of sports in general and football in particular as a business and a brand proposition, will require honest analysis, political and financial will, and a collective approach.

It must be if Africa is to unlock its sports potential and turn millions into billions.

Dr. Victor Oladokun, is the Director of Communication and External Relations at the African Development Bank