Back in 2011, KCCA FC had to contend with playing its home matches at Nakivubo stadium, where they used to pay to host matches.
Matters were not helped by the fact that in spite of operating on a Shs 400m budget, the club made a paltry Shs 9 million from gate collections that season.
On the balance sheet, the club was operating in deficit and if it hadn’t been for the established name, any serious business decision maker would have wound up the club. That’s how business operates worldwide.
It was almost inconceivable at the time that six years later, the club would be in position to make at least Shs 100m in gate collections in a season.
That’s the reality from last season when the club seized the opportunities availed by the new stadium. Fast forward to last Tuesday, November 14, the club went a notch higher by unveiling a four-year Shs 1.6 billion partnership with StarTimes for the stadium’s naming rights till July 31, 2021.
It was a watershed moment in top-flight Ugandan football and an eye-opener for all football stakeholders about the power of sponsorship. However, the deal aroused a sour taste in the mouths of some of the club faithful, who feel that the club needs to retain its name as Phillip Omondi stadium.
As a self-confessed KCCA fan, I wouldn’t have been more proud of the deal that sees the club gain everything without losing anything tangible.
Granted, Omondi is an iconic name in Uganda sport, a player who dominated the sport for years with his flair and touch of a genius. However, football as a business has undergone tremendous transformation world over to the extent that financial power and success come before tradition and style.
Take the example of Arsenal, arguably the most supported club in Uganda, whose Emirates stadium branding is worth £150m for 11 years not to mention the £150m in shirt sponsorship till 2019. The Gunners are not alone, Man City’s stadium deal with Etihad airways – a fierce rival to Emirates – saw the club bank 400m euros over 14 years and they stand to get more.
Apart from the association club that take pride at heart, Europe, and in particular Germany, has taken the lead in utlising the power of sponsorship. Leading clubs such as Bayern, Schalke, Levrkusen, Dortmund, all play in branded stadiums.
So, who is KCCA to resist sponsorship in the age of football where sponsors mean everything?
No name is untouchable
Of recent, there is a wave of club enthusiasts who claim the name Omondi is untouchable. Their narrative is that Omondi is so special that he cannot be substituted.
Granted, he did great things for the club and national team over the 10 years in football. With hindsight, however, it could also be argued that Moses Nsereko, or even Bidandi Ssali, did as much, if not greater.
Nsereko’s entire 15-year career was spent at KCCA, winning all there is as a player and coach. On the other hand, the club owes its DNA to Bidandi’s astuteness and vision to the extent that one cannot mention Omondi’s greatness without citing Bidandi’s influence.
So, it was not a big deal that it had to be Omondi but in the same vein, it is not cast in stone that the name is unchangeable if the opportunity arises. Do you know that Pele and Diego Maradona, the two greatest players of the game, have no stadium named after them?
What's in name?
To the ordinary folk, naming rights is a sign of recognition of someone’s greatness. In Uganda, it doesn’t carry much weight if it is not backed up by action. For instance, we have a John Babiiha road that is known for its colonial name as Acacia avenue; then the St Balikuddembe market which still known as Owino market.
This extends to sports where Namboole stadium is rarely referred to by its original name as Nelson Mandela national stadium. It even gets more annoying when you look at the stadiums we have in the country such as the Akii-Bua stadium in Lira or even the Kyabazinga stadium in Bugembe.
Both facilities are a shadow of their former selves and there is no hope they will ever regain their glory. Which brings me back to the matter at hand of KCCA’s deal to hand over the naming rights of Lugogo to StarTimes stadium.
For one, I have interacted several times with Lawrence Mulindwa, the Vipers FC president, who has also said he is open to giving up the St Mary’s stadium name if a sponsor offers the right amount.
Football world over is driven by sponsorship and Ugandans need to wake up to the reality. That’s the harsh reality. On hindsight, the KCCA-StarTimes deal lasts just four years and with the club aiming to develop it into an all-seater stadium, the sky is the limit.
Gone are the days when all talk in Ugandan football was mere lamenting and whining; we need to wake up to the reality that football is a business.
The author is operations director of The Observer Media Ltd.