The end of June is usually peak season for most sporting disciplines in any ordinary year but 2020 has proved to be anything but ordinary thus far.
Sport is firmly in the grip of the Coronavirus in Rwanda as is the case for the rest of the world. Many events and activities have been cancelled or at the very least postponed until further notice.
For a sector that lives by the principle of constant improvement, unplanned interruptions are most unwelcome. And yet, Covid-19 or no Covid-19, life has to go on!
Sports governing bodies and athletes in Rwanda have been compelled to figure out how to keep going despite the inability to hold competitions that normally bring thousands together to enjoy the epitome of passionate pursuits that is sport in general.
Things are not what they should be. Worse still, it looks like life will never be as it was before and the sooner we all accept this, the better for all of us.
What then will it take to get the sports sector ticking beyond this Covid-19 pandemic?
Having keenly watched the evolution of the sector over the last 10 or so years both in Rwanda and across the globe, allow me dear reader to indulge you with what in my opinion are the 3 most critical actions the Rwandan sports sector can undertake to thrive beyond the current impediments to the pursuit of sports posed by Covid-19.
ACTION 1 – Collaboration
The sector is currently plagued by disjointed activities with each federation trying to outdo the others with innovative ways of attracting fans and sponsors. Unfortunately most activities are not well planned out and struggle to offer the would be fans or sponsors a significantly unique value proposition. The fans and sponsors are inundated with more of the same and are forced to look for variety elsewhere.
The opportunities for collaboration are various and begin with developing an annual joint sports calendar highlighting 2-3 high profile events per month that guarantee visibility for every sport with the focus fully beamed on each at different times of the year instead of the over 20 registered sports constantly clamouring for attention throughout the year with little success.
The development of infrastructure around the country can be jointly undertaken by multiple federations and presented to districts as joint projects to be included in the annual performance targets (Imihigo). The districts could provide the land and the federations would fundraise to finance the centrally located sports facilities.
Additionally, training courses for federation staff in the areas of administration and management can be run jointly to minimise cost and also learn from each other’s best practises as each sport may possess strengths in different areas.
ACTION 2 – Embracing Digital Technology
For the first time in history, money spent on advertising through social media surpassed that spent on traditional media outlets in the first quarter of 2020. That shift is an indicator of where the audience is to be found. For sports to be financially viable, the sector needs to attract as many fans as possible. Once the fan base is built, then the corporate sponsors can take a keen interest in what is happening in the sports sector.
If the fans are to be found online, then the sports federations have the obligation to provide their content (games) online and continue to engage the fan beyond the 2-3 hours that the game may last. Interactive digital media is key to driving fan base growth which in-turn drives revenue and sponsor interest in a particular sport.
Highlight reels and post match interviews are as popular as the live streams of the games from which they are derived. The sports federations should make a deliberate distinction between the fan experience online and the experience at the physical venue so that one does not replace the other but the 2 complement each other.
ACTION 3 – Diversifying Revenue Streams
Most sports federations depend on local corporate sponsorships, ticket sales and grants from international bodies. All these revenue streams have been under pressure long before the Covid-19 pandemic, it is just making a bad situation worse. The whole sports sector needs to be more innovative and create extra ways to earn some additional revenue.
There are new areas to be considered such as sports tourism where tourists come specifically to be a part of a sports event.
This has many possible outcomes as it creates a stronger relationship between the sports bodies that organise the events, sponsors and other players in the tourism industry. These strong relationships can create additional value and make it easier for organisers to formulate future unique value propositions to the fans and sponsors.
More importantly, sports bodies need to move away from the traditional approach of focusing on the intricacies of their particular sport when organising events. What is more commercially productive is to focus on making the experience of every fan as fulfilling and memorable as possible. Once the fan is guaranteed an exciting, enjoyable and comfortable experience at a sports event, chances are that they will want to keep coming back. Repeat business from a growing fan base is the key to long term success for the sector.
Particularly, sporting events in Rwanda have to become more family friendly and accomodating for female fans as much as they are to male fans.
The journey to achieving this trinity of ambitions for sports sector starts today.
The responsibility squarely lies with the sports federations with support from the the Rwanda National Olympic and Sports Committee (RNOSC) in concert with the Ministry of Sports.
September is only 2 months away, the sector needs to strike when the iron is still hot or risk falling back to old ways which have not yielded bountiful harvests thus far.
Over to you dear colleagues in the sports sector!
The author is the President of Rwanda Cricket AssociationFollow https://twitter.com/eddiebmuga