Tuesday, April 5, 2016

FACE TO FACE WITH THE BIG MAN, KANU NWANKWO

Last week The Vision Group had the honour of hosting former Arsenal Football Club striker Kanu Nwankwo to lunch.

In the country as a brand ambassador for Star Times TV, the lanky forward was down to earth and genial. A member of the Arsenal ”invincibles” who went the 2003/04 season without a loss it is hard to begrudge him the honorific of legend, especially since he won almost every honour in Europe, with only the World Cup eluding him.

A key player for Arsenal at the height of his career, it is reported that he may be worth about $9m.

It is this number when I came across it that got me thinking, how does a team pay a single player upwards of £25,000 (sh125m) weekly?

Arsenal formed in 1886 was valued at $1.3b last year by Forbes magazine. The revenues from their home ground, Emirates Stadium came in at £100m last year which was about a third of total revenues.

The question then becomes how do you build such a company?

Longevity helps. The club will be 130 years this year but even better it has to be run as a commercial enterprise to unlock its value. The Club went bankrupt before the First World War, was relegated to the second division, before being taken over by a businessman.

I am sure if you go look for the company’s audited accounts they date back to 1886. Record keeping is key because you can learn what you are doing right and continue doing but more importantly you can see what you were doing wrong and put a stop to it. It does away with the guesswork that many companies indulge in for lack of information or inability to analyse the information available.

"Generally records serve as an objective measure of progress or lack of thereof. Objective decision making meant they moved away from the Highbury grounds to the Emirates Stadium in 2006. They put aside 93 years of history, tradition and passion to improve the business. With one fell swoop they double the match day crowds and the last I heard make one million pounds more than the larger Old Trafford stadium home of Manchester United...

Aside from a long tradition of good management it helps too, that up to the second world war England was the top economy in the world, with an empire on which the sun never set.

Essentially, by the time Kanu came along in 1999 the company was an already well-oiled money making machine.

Of course Kanu’s pay pales in comparison to the current crop of top earners, but that’s academic. If he had played now he most probably would be racking it in with the best.

The question would then be for our own current circumstances, which of our teams are best placed to emerge, backed by a powerful corporate structure, in a hundred years be a stand out team like Arsenal FC? The prospects look rather bleak.

And we should not thumb our noses at organisation. The English league is arguably the most organised soccer league in the world, which organisation is reflected in the teams there. It makes the most money for its stakeholders, never mind that it is neither the most enjoyable league to watch or have the most talent in the sport.

You can have talent but for lack of organisation, struggle, lose that same talent to more organised leagues -- see South America.

On the day that Kanu was at the New Vision the Uganda Cranes were getting ready to take Burkina Faso in a match they needed to win to all but guarantee their chances to participate in the African Cup of Nations next year.

Following a similar pattern we failed to come up with the goods, drawing with the West Africans. 

While there is still hope for us me made that much harder by not shutting the door on the Burkinabe.
Undiscerning observers blame our lack of talent. But that is erroneous as 16 of the 18 member squad ply their trade as professionals abroad –okay none of them is in the premier league, but so too Burkina Faso.

"Our underwhelming performance on the international scene is down to poor management of our local teams and the local governing body FUFA....

How does one explain that golf a sport with a handful of elite hackers, relative to soccer’s local fan base, is the darling of corporate sponsors? Sponsors are looking for efficiency in deploying their marketing spend.

Of course recent events at the world soccer governing body FIFA suggest that clearly the sport struggles with governance issues right from the top. But is too much to ask that our sports’ administration taken the path less travelled, get their houses in order and give us something to cheer about?

Back to Kanu. Nigeria where the lanky dribbler comes from, lost his talent to Europe. Is it inconceivable to think that a soccer mad country of a 100 million people can fail to find the money to sustain a world class soccer league? You tell me.

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