PAMELA Lutta is the Director of Marketing & Corporate Affairs for Mumias Sugar Company and over the years, the firm has built up a sports sponsorship portfolio in soccer. She has been at the forefront of making Kenyan Premier League side, AFC Leopards an incredible success story.
She talked to Mobi.com about how it all started and the future of Mumias Sugar Company’s support of soccer in the country.
QUESTION: Why and when did Mumias Sugar Company get involved in sports sponsorship, particularly at AFC Leopards?
ANSWER : The history of Mumias Sugar Company sports sponsorship is almost as old as the company itself. In the mid-seventies, the company supported inter-departmental sports competitions, mainly football where departmental teams that were known by acronyms such as SAPA, ODS, FWAE and Agriserv had become household names on the Estate. From among these teams Mumias formed its own football team then known as Musco FC that later changed to Mumias Sugar Football Club. The Team qualified to play in the then National Super League where it remained until 2007 when it was officially disbanded. The company however continued to support soccer and sports in general.
We got involved with AFC Leopards in November 2010 when through CSR [Community Social Responsibility] we supported their last three league games of that season following club management appeal to Mumias for financial support. As a company we decided to support the club as part of our contribution to developing and nurturing youth talent.
Further discussions and appeals by club management and one spirited AFC supporter, Francis Wangara (KUSPW SG) eventually culminated in long-term sponsorship discussions and finally the three-year contract was signed between the two parties.
Q: Mumias is the current sponsor of AFC Leopards. This partnership shows Mumias’ substantial investment and support for the team. What fraction of Mumias’ resources is dedicated to club?
A: The AFC Leopards’ sponsorship is just one of the many CSR initiatives that the company undertakes. From January 2011 Mumias took up a Sh60 Million sponsorship of AFC Leopards for three years. The first year sponsorship was pegged at Sh 15 million, the current one is at Sh.20 million while the final year it will be Sh25 million. The sponsorship is renewable depending on the team’s performance.
It should be noted that the company other than the sponsorship extends a lot to the club including Medical cover by AAR, sponsoring team’s motivational and team building activities, kitting and supplementary support especially during the pre-season.
Q: What does or did Mumias Sugar hope to get from sponsoring AFC Leopards?
A : First and foremost Mumias hopes to make a contribution to the society by supporting, nurturing and growing youth sport talent. We hope that some if not all players will realise their full potential and achieve greater heights in professional football.
It being a win-win situation we also hope that the Mumias sugar brand will have an opportunity to engage with the consumers. AFC Leopards have one of the largest following not only in Kenya but in Africa as a whole. It is a great football team and the brand association is great for Mumias too.
Q: Financial depth is the key for any soccer club hoping to make it big in continental matches. In the event that AFC Leopards win the 2012 Kenyan Premier League and qualify for [Africa] continental competition, will Mumias Sugar support the club financially?
A: There is as Luhya and Swahili proverb for that: “Shiwakhalia ing’ombe wakhaywa okhulia omushira (you can’t eat a whole cow and be defeated to eat the tail), or in Kiswahili, “Maji ukishayavulia nguo hauna budi kuyaoga (after stripping ready to take a bath, you have no otherwise). The answer is, “Yes”, we will definitely support the club.
Q: One of the basic principles of soccer marketing is to cater to the fans, yet many Premier League clubs do a poor job marketing themselves to their fan base. What teams do you think do a better job than others and what tactics could most teams use to better their situation?
A: It will not be fair for us to judge which teams have done what in terms of marketing as most of the activities are not just about strategy but also a financial aspect to it and not all teams are equal in this respect.
But certainly Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards and to some extent Sofapaka and Tusker stand out because of the fan-base; merchandising through branded jerseys, ‘T’-shirts, scarves, caps etc. This enables them to be more visible.
Merchandising through the fan-base, to drive brand visibility is perhaps not the only tactic but in my opinion one of the best. Engagement with the fans through activities off pitch is also a good way to market. Utilisation of communication channels like social media is also a must do.
Q: Is there any negative side to sponsorship in soccer that would make you think twice in the future?
A : Every coin has a flip side. Certain issues that have a negative impact on the club performance usually emerge, issues that have nothing to do with sponsorship but you get affected as a sponsor. For example leadership wrangles among club members are a downside.
Ugly scenes at matches especially fan trouble or hooliganism are also a downside as usually the sponsors brand is associated as you cannot separate the club fans, team and sponsor given the branding etc.
These are all things that make a sponsor think twice.
Q: Do you feel there is anything Soccer industry as a whole could do to increase the value for corporate sponsorship?
A : There is need for harmony between Fifa and national governments. There is need for transparency and accountability by national federations. National federations should do more at grass root level to develop football at grass root level as there is a lot of talent waiting to be identified and nurtured. As a company we have noted this when we run the annual community soccer tournament dubbed Utamu Halisi Soccer Challenge Title.
The industry executives also need to reach out to more corporate and other able sponsors to support soccer growth through support of clubs not only at Premier League level but even other divisions.
Soccer marketing should be enhanced so as to have more investment in the sport which will definitely enhance the profile of the game. Also if standards are improved it means the teams will feature more widely and this has benefit of brand exposure not just for the players but also the sponsors and with this more corporate may consider coming on board.
The association of soccer with hooliganism, fan trouble, politics sometimes may deter some potential corporate sponsors. Campaigns to root out these vices would go a long way in giving the sport a positive image and maybe encourage more sponsors to come on board.
Most corporates would want to understand the ROL [Return On Relationship] in sponsoring teams hence it would be necessary for the industry to aggressively market potential benefits of sponsorship.
Q: Does AFC Leopards and Mumias get enough spotlight, be it by SuperSport (in terms of ‘live’ games) or in the local print, online and TV press? And are you satisfied with the publicity you both get?
A : Yes, we get publicity through the team kit branding. I, however, feel that more can be done; maybe by dedicating some of the features on the sponsors of the various teams. Some airtime dedicated to the sponsors if feasible.
Q : Does Mumias plan to extend the AFC Leopards’ sponsorship, if so, for how long?
A : Yes, we plan on extending the sponsorship for another three  years but this will be by mutual agreement with club.
QUICK FIRE SLOT :
Being an AFC Leopards fan and sponsor, what has been your highlight so far?
- My highlight has been the turn-around in the club performance as, although there have been bad days when the team lost, I guess that is why we have Win, Loss, Draw on the table and that is football
- My other highlight has been seeing what unifying factor soccer is. It has been great seeing fans from all walks of life turning up in large numbers to support the team and follow it at all matches and encourage the team even when they are on the low
Favourite AFC Player?
- I would say that all the 28 players are really my favourites. They each bring on board unique skills and qualities. Also being involved and interacting with the team from a motivational angle and in encouraging team work and spirit all players are a favorite as they realize not one individual can make it happen as soccer is a team sport and everybody counts
Which team do you support?
- I support AFC Leopards as a diehard fan, both my sons play soccer with the my first son being a starter in the Ushauri Sport team so I support Ushauri as well and finally my sons are diehard supporters of Manchester United so rather than risk being left on my own the whole time when EPL is running, I support Man U so I can be part of their lives and interests
Since you joined soccer what’s the most interesting thing you have learnt?
- That soccer is a very emotive game both from team and fan perspective but incredibly unifying. At the beginning of our engagement with AFC Leopards, Mumias paid player salaries on time and every other financial support but there were no wins forthcoming. They lost like five matches in a row and at best afforded a draw.
It was strange because people thought that the team had the best financial support and the performance was expected to be superb.
I then took closer interest in the team and I realised that financial support alone wasn’t everything but that a winning team needed more. Motivation to drive their inner self belief, psyche and attitude was paramount. It is at this point that I started to invest my time in team motivational talk and team building. This has been very impactful on the team and even on individual players especially in maintaining positivity and self belief. It may not have ensured the team stays in the ‘Win’ column only but certainly there has been a noted difference in the team disposition and attitude.