The Sunday Mail
THE Covid-19-induced break in global football and world sporting activities has brought to the fore the need for Zimbabwe’s flagship sport (football) to reform in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Commercialisation has brought several changes to the game and not all are beneficial to the well-being and financial future of some clubs.
There are clubs that have been affected to the point of either having their existence threatened or going bust.
In Zimbabwe, for instance, traditional clubs like Dynamos, CAPS United and Highlanders have been the benchmark in terms of on-field success, but those that have gone into their administrative structures seem to have failed to realise that the football industry is very much influenced by market forces, just as other businesses that provide leisure and entertainment.
Clubs need to adopt more professional approaches and move away from the amateur ethos if they want to survive in the modern business environment.
There has been an emergence of all sorts of club owners or rich enthusiasts purchasing franchises and relocating them to towns several miles away from their original location, only for the club to go out of existence after winning a league championship or running for a few years.
Most of these club owners have probably come into football hoping that supporters will remain a captive audience — not realising that the demographics of football fans are changing. ZIFA, PSL and club leaders are somehow failing to recognise that fans are customers and have the ability to spend their hard-earned cash and leisure time on competing entertainment attractions.
Modern football fans are very much capable of judging or choosing what they like or dislike, making their patterns of consumption very unpredictable than was the case 10 to 20 years ago.
Most of our administrators do not have the fundamental skills to deal or adapt to the ever-changing football climate and supporters’ changing habits.
The ambitions of supporters must always be respected by club leaders as they are the backbone of any side.
There is need to focus on changing the old sporting system that is based on planned economy to a new system that is based on a market-based economy, rather than depending on Government or company subsidies.
Clubs need to be self-reliant and supported by the market.
With football as the number one sport in both participation and spectatorship, there is need for it to take a stand to reform and start following the principles of the market economy and become self-sustainable.
Of importance in transforming football into a business is the creation of new directors who will not run football as a public utility but a business by reforming clubs’ administrative structures to operate along contemporary business management practices.
Revenues earned by clubs have to be accounted for by qualified financial personnel employed to oversee finances.
And also at board level there is need for transformation in line with modern-day business practices.
This can only lead clubs into profit-making entities, while poor administrative structures can only result in huge financial losses or inefficiency.
Clubs need to be financially independent in order to make football profitable.
This autonomy liberates the clubs and enables them opportunities to develop strategies to enhance or maximise revenue.
Some experts say football clubs in England are registered as limited companies, whose objectives are written and defined in the memorandum and articles of association of companies that are laid down by founder shareholders.
For a football club, the company’s business is running a football club, organise/arrange fixtures and other sources of revenue such as sponsorship (sale of broadcasting rights), football trust, supporters’ club gate receipts, catering, stock markets and merchandising.
All these functions are performed for profit, usually tacitly.
It is important for clubs to have in place suitable balance and consistency between their pursuit for profits and competitive success.
There are two key issues that should be considered to effectively run a club – identification of its objectives, and the trade-off between financial success/profit maximisation and success in the field of play.
One of the main drivers of the football industry has been the rising value of broadcasting rights that have become crucial to the survival and viability of clubs across the world.
Sports broadcasting has become a way of attracting huge audiences and a way of raising the profile of sporting events, building team recognition and attracting new fans that would probably not have attended the event, leading to increased sponsorship.
Our local clubs continue to lose thousands of dollars in revenue as a result of failing to maximise on match-day ticket sales, which leads to poor attendance as well as lost cross-selling opportunities from possible revenue sources such as merchandising, catering, match programmes, scarves et cetera.
The inability to have reasonable crowds at stadiums on match-days has huge financial implication on clubs.
It is important that fan engagement be the focal point of any club’s growth strategy.
World football continues to evolve in many noticeable ways, and club football is the key driver of this process.
The landscape continues to be in constant transition.
One of the functions of a club is to win games, and success on the field of play is at the heart of most successful teams throughout the world.
The business and management side of football has grown substantially, leading to increased level of influence on the club’s success on the pitch.
Modern football clubs should endeavour to have the ability to integrate high-level sporting and administrative competency together with commercial focus and awareness of stakeholders’ environment.
There is need to promote sound management practices and short, medium- and long-term strategic planning within clubs.
There are three main activities of a club – sport, business and community – and any activity in each impacts on the other two.
The environment in which a club is based is what will shape it and provide its unique feature.
It also provides it with the source of opportunities, especially if it has administrators who can recognise their competitive advantage in their surroundings.
Crucial to the success of a club is its relationship with its wider society, as this will be responsible for its success or failure.
The business of football is a very unique type of business, with its main goal not being the financial return, but performance on the field of play, such as winning matches and silverware, entertainment and excitement for fans.
On the other hand, it must be noted that good performance on the field will yield good financial returns.
There is empirical evidence that effective revenue-generating structures can have consequential impact on team performances.
Most of our club owners should leverage on globalisation and technological advancements to monetise and increase interest in Zimbabwe’s football across the globe, rather than focusing on generating revenue from local markets and traditional means such as gate receipts only.
Not many local clubs have built strong brands and fan bases beyond the towns they are based.
It must be noted that teams that have better performances in the league tend to generate more revenue.
A high wage bill also results in good performances in the league.
This theory should result in better cooperation between fans, club owners and managers, as they all want to win matches.
As the domestic clubs plan for a new normal post-Covid-19, it is important to note that fans intend to consume football through social media.
This has been the trend during the lockdowns locally and across the globe, and this will provide fans with a greater opportunity to engage in a two-way dialogue with an increasing number of sources.
The internet has not been fully used by clubs and authorities to engage fans, yet it enables clubs to communicate with fans directly.
Through this process, those who are able to go online have access to the latest information on the club’s official social media platforms.
This can go a long way in ensuring that there is a healthy relationship between clubs and fans and a platform for clubs to monetise on their fans, irrespective of where they are in the world, and at the same time giving them a voice.
Football communication strategy is one of the key changes in the industry and we are lagging behind on this one.
Administrators must work in an efficient manner.
Failure to do so will only lead to poor working conditions for players and revenue streams such as sponsorship, merchandise and gate receipts will decline.
Change and uncertainties can only be managed by those clubs that have sound organisational structures, and not by those run from a briefcase or car boot.
Hastings Kamanga is a UK-based Zimbabwean who is the academy coach at AFC Rusden and Diamonds. He holds a BA Hons in football studies and an MA in leadership and management of sport and physical activities from the University of Bedfordshire.