Independent Sport View With Darlington Majonga
IT was hosanna all over the place when a little-known Pakistani sportswear company sauntered into the Premier Soccer League (PSL) offices dangling an offer t
o kit-out the top-flight clubs in a sponsorship deal said to be worth US$200 000.
After inking the deal with Ihsan Sports, the PSL executives must have rubbed their hands with glee following months of chasing the wind trying to secure apparently elusive sponsorship for the league.
Bearing in mind the escalating costs of running football, the kit deal is no doubt a godsend for all but one of the 16 premiership teams that accepted to be rigged in the Ihsan brand.
Our deepest concern, however, is whether the deal will be successful considering similar arrangements that have been tried before, albeit at a smaller scale.
In 2001 L-Sporto — an Italian label certainly better known than Ihsan — struck a deal with Harare giants Dynamos. The kit did come, and we all remember “Kidznet” stars such as Eddie Mashiri, Norman Maroto, Samson Choruwa and Cephas Chimedza chicly dressed in sky-blue shirts and white shorts.
Highlanders had a similar deal with L-Sporto during the same period. Sadly the deal, just like at Dynamos, did not last. And we were never told the real story.
The Italian sportswear maker, represented by Malawian agent Felix Sapao, went on to try its luck with the Zimbabwe national soccer team in a deal that went awry sooner than the ink on the contract had dried.
he L-Sporto deal with the Warriors is surely not fondly remembered.
L-Sporto, probably as part of its sponsorship package, arranged a friendly match for the Warriors against a team that turned out to be a fake El Salvador national team as Zimbabwe prepared for their maiden appearance at the African Nations Cup finals in 2004.
The kit-makers also failed to deliver on time the strip that the Warriors were to use at the finals in Tunisia, with the consignment arriving from China just before the squad left for the tournament. Even the way the names on the jerseys were splodged said it all.
Then came the Jartazi label that started off at league champions Caps United before we suddenly found the Warriors in long-sleeved gold shirts. The Belgian brand disappeared faster than many people had known about it.
The Legea kit that the Warriors are using must be a familiar strip now, but certainly not a popular one. The Belgians, whose first port of call in Zimbabwe was Caps United as well, made sure the Warriors were unappealingly dressed at the recent Nations Cup finals in Egypt.
After the PSL deal, there’s no doubt Ihsan might be itching to muscle out Legea and take over the supply of the Warriors kit as well.
It’s premature to judge the quality of the kit Ihsan will supply, but we are not thoroughly impressed by the strip the Pakistanis have supplied to the Zimbabwe cricket team.
or now we will wait and see whether premiership clubs will drop their current strips — be they Nike, Adidas, nameless or Sunday Chidzambwa-made — for the latest benefit of Zimbabwe’s “Look East” policy.
After all, what guarantee is there that players will leave their Nike, Umbro, Adidas and Lotto boots for an obscure label that they have not see even in a zhing-zhong shop?
But the biggest question remains: how will the premiership benefit?
It’s our sincere hope that the PSL, as well as Ihsan, has taken time to scrutinise why L-Sporto and other kit deals have failed before — at a smaller scale for that matter.
We don’t want to believe the L-Sporto deals flopped because of dishonesty on the part of the Italian sportswear maker or Dynamos or the Zimbabwe Football Association.
As we see it, all the previous deals — like the Ihsan contract — are based on the assumption that the sponsors will get a return from the sale of replica jerseys.
-Sporto, Jartazi and Legea were not concerned about their logos appearing on Zimbabwean television, but they had hoped their association with clubs as well as the national team would push sales of their brand.
That was a wholly miscalculated basis for the deals, if anyone cared to look at the economic situation in Zimbabwe.
For a PSL desperate for any cash that may come its way, we pray the little percentage it has been promised from the envisaged sale of replicas will not blind them to the reasons that made previous similar deals flop.
Replica jerseys generally have been priced beyond the reach of many football fans, with the ugly Legea brand asking for nothing less than $3 million during the Nations Cup days in January.
No one needs to be reminded that life is so tight for almost all Zimbabweans that sparing a few dollars to buy a replica — if not a sub-standard — jersey would be unthinkable. Also the marketing strategies that we have seen before in Zimbabwe football leave a lot to be desired.
Even if the Ihsan jerseys are to sell like hot cakes, how much money will find its way to the coffers of the clubs? Your guess is as good as ours.
We hope the PSL will not have problems with Caps United, who turned down the Ihsan offer because they already have running contracts with other sportswear companies.
It was a Caps deal with Net*One that cost the premiership its sponsorship from Econet as the two companies are rivals. Of course we all know the political hand that was involved.
here’s no prize for guessing why internationally renowned labels such as Adidas, Puma and Nike may not be interested in doing business in Zimbabwe. After all, besides non-existent marketing advantages, very few of us would afford their top-quality replicas.
For now, it’s good enough that Ihsan has placed its faith in the PSL at a time other potential sponsors are recoiling from football. But the stark reality remains: the league has no sponsor!
Two weekends into the new season and nine months after mobile communications giant Econet was unceremoniously forced out of football, the PSL is yet to attract a new sponsor. And none seems to be forthcoming despite incessant pledges by the league management.
At the rate the PSL men are failing to deliver on their promises, we are afraid the league might turn out to be nothing more than a social contest only different from boozers’ soccer because of its competitiveness and ability to attract huge crowds.
You shudder to imagine the plight of lower leagues and junior development when sponsors shun the top-flight league itself.
We hope the Ihsan kits won’t be used to literally wipe tears from our eyes as we wail over the demise of Zimbabwean football. Already, we are stuck in a mess, if anyone hadn’t realised it!