Tour du Rwanda stars should now give us mega sports icons

The peloton ride at Base in Gakenke District

The English Premier League resumed and of course a lot of the new interest will be around the fact that one of the biggest teams will be beckoning people to Visit Rwanda.

A video of Rwandan Intore dancers in a flash mob dance as the Arsenal first team lads were training quickly went viral earlier this week, causing new excitement around destination Rwanda.

When marketing a tourist destination, you cannot tire of informing and reminding people that one this vast earth there is a place called Rwanda for example.

The deal with Arsenal Football Club will go a long way in implanting the thoughts around Rwanda in the minds of the millions across the world that follow the most popular football league.

Still with sports, I recently landed on a conversation on Twitter that I found interesting.

Someone in Kenya asked on Twitter about Kenyan brands that were using Kenyan sports personalities as brand ambassadors or just in adverts.

The responses were a bit disappointing as it turned out that many corporate brands had not really found the value in putting a face of a Kenya sports person on their product materials.

The most recognisable person was 800 metres champion Moses Rudisha who featured in a Kiwi shoe polish ad some years back. Some people from the marketing and branding industry pointed out that the problem was not really with the companies but with the sports people who were clueless about branding themselves first. This is a topic that has been close to my heart in recent times.

I have intimated to many a friend that we do ourselves a huge disservice when we fail to recognise the value of excelling in sports and more when we fail to show those in it and outside it the other value that comes with sports excellence.

Sports people are some of the most highly paid people alive but it does not just happen.

The prize money from the rewards that come with winning is only a fraction of what a top sports person can lay their hands on. The people at the very top have some of the most attractive deals you can ever imagine.

For example I was shocked to learn that there are actually three human beings with a lifetime endorsement deal with Nike. These people (LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Christiano Ronaldo) will continue earning money from Nike for as long as they stay alive. Imagine that.

But let us come back closer home. East Africa has some fine sports personalities worth their names both on the local and international scenes whose potential to reap more from their skills remains untapped.

They are our champions but not quite our stars. The transition from being a champ to a star is what is needed if one is to become a magnet for those lucrative endorsement deals. There is a reason why off the pitch Ronaldo is a bigger brand than Messi.

Jamaica’s Usain Bolt is another good example of one who smoothly transformed from being a champ to a star and a brand thus making so much money off his skills. When Stephen Kiprotich won the Olympic Marathon, he was such a huge star in Uganda that even in Kigali you could see his face on an advert for a Ugandan mineral water company.

When I look at how big the Tour du Rwanda and cycling in general have become in Rwanda, I can’t wait to see the champions graduating into stars.

I am thinking of stars that are swarmed by young children when they visit schools and who are respected by company executives in boardrooms where decisions to have them as brand ambassadors are taken. Stars that make young children dream to follow in their footsteps.

Sportsmen and women need to work hard on their skills to stay on top of the game. Then they need to check their discipline so that no brand regrets associating with them. The next step is to ensure they have good communication skills.

They should not be deceived that it is ok to be unable to respond well to an English speaking journalist at a global stage. If you cannot express yourself well then which global brand will you speak for?

Of course social media skills can also help but this can be outsourced. Names like Mugisha, Areruya or Ninyonshuti should grow big enough to be fought for by local, regional and global corporate brands. Rwandan children need these stars to dream big.

Email: ssenyonga@gmail.com

Blog: www.ssenyonga.wordpress.com

Twitter: @ssojo81

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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