The euphoria that followed Uganda Cranes’ impressive group stage performance at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finals in Egypt was not just on social media, on the streets and in livings rooms. In several boardrooms, Cranes were the rave on notepads.
These were heroes and their return would be big. It was not a surprise, therefore, that top corporate firms undid themselves trying to get the front seat at the Arrivals section of Entebbe International Airport.
“You people in the media, you must have contacts of the Fufa guys,” a woman who works with a PR and marketing agency told a journalist in July last year. “My client wants to be among the brands receiving the Cranes back home and they have an attractive proposal on the table.”
But Fufa was not taking in hitchhikers, with the federations communications director Ahmed Hussein explaining back then that the Uganda Cranes was a brand that was painstakingly built and would identify with only fans and its partners.
“We know the value attached to the Cranes brand at the moment. We are aware of companies who would wish to sign a partnership with Fufa now due to the Cranes’ performance at Afcon,” he said then.
“We’ll manage such expectations with dignity but the Cranes brand values loyalty of its sponsors and partners, not forgetting the fans. We’ll always continue to identify with them during the good and rough times.”
Age of branding
Branding has become one of the most salient imprints in sports, and for football clubs and federations/ associations, it doesn’t get any better. In an era where sponsors are key partners in smooth management and running of clubs, brands are like the heart that drives the pulse of most teams.
Sponsors and partners identify with strong brands while fans pride in such. This is not something lost on the players in the branding and marketing such as Kennedy Mutenyo.
The former promotions manager at Century Bottling Company has been integral in the success of the annual post-primary school football tournament, commonly known as Copa Coca-Cola, since 1993.
Before 1993, the then nascent grassroots tournament attracted mostly schools around Kampala. Today, up to 60 schools from across the country participate.
“We built a strong brand every upcoming player is happy to participate in,” Mutenyo, a member of the Copa organising committee, said.
Since Mutenyo was the senior person representing interests of the Coca-Cola for more than 25 years, he suggested plans for the brand and culture making the tournament a centrepiece in youth football.
Speaking to SCORE, Mutenyo said sports must stay a step ahead when it comes to building brands for seeking money-making opportunities.
“Everything that clubs try to set up should be aimed at making sure they have success even when results are not going their way,” he said.
“You cannot win all the time yet you need money even at your lowest moment. The stronger the brand, the more financial success a club is likely to get.”
Sports brand is contingent on a number of factors but having a robust institution behind the sport and the business enhance that value. Fufa has the head start in Uganda’s sports landscape yet before 2005, it was a vulnerable brand riddled with litigation and abuses.
Fufa president Moses Magogo said Uganda Cranes, arguably the leading sporting brand in Uganda, is an end product.
“The Uganda Cranes team was not bad but people could not identify with a bad brand. So, it affected the sporting aspect too,” Magogo said.
He said the process included re-working the whole brand starting with the institution, Fufa. The success of the Cranes is however the opposite of what clubs offer. Many only have a big name with an accompanying feeble brand.
“Right now clubs have very weak institutions behind them. The first thing to work on should be those institutions. You cannot build any brand without a robust institution behind it because no one can pull down a strong institution,” Magogo said, advising that clubs must address governance and ownership.
Where clubs can look to
Magogo said clubs in Uganda can strengthen connections to their fans by inviting the community to be part of their story. He argued that it is dangerous to sell only results to the fans, a mindset he accused the media of continually building.
KCCA brand growth strongest on social media
Police have just slightly over 2,000 followers on Twitter. The club are only better than UPDF, Kyetume and debutants Myda. Curiously, the club’s chairman, AIGP Asan Kasingye, boasts 155,000 followers on his handle, @AKasingye. Would it make a difference for Police if Kasingye ran their social media handles? Probably.
But probably isn’t what 13 times league champions KCCA are tinkering with on social media as their recent growth has not been felt only on the pitch but also on social media.
For a club that became the first to run a dedicated TV programme whose clips are posted on their Facebook and Twitter accounts, their strength on social media is no surprise.
KCCA have 91,000 followers on Facebook. It will not be surprising if they get twice the numbers of second-place Express by December.
Credit to the Red Eagles, they have managed to keep their presence on social media despite recent wobbles on and off the pitch.
Vipers and Express swap places on Twitter behind KCCA while Villa, who last won the league title a few months after Mark Zuckerberg and his college mates founded Facebook on February 4, 2004, maintain fourth place among the 15 confirmed StarTimes Uganda Premier League teams for the 2020/21 season.
Wakiso Giants, after a season in UPL, have grown their brand to stand sixth on Facebook with 21,000 followers and another 14,000 on Twitter that would no doubt impress Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams who founded the social media in March 2006.
The significance of social media in boosting brand awareness is well documented. In the context of sports, social media branding makes it easy for clubs to get more relevant fans into their funnel by giving them a reason to trust in the team not only for the results on pitch but also community outreach.
UPL clubs on Facebook
SC Villa 35,000
Wakiso Giants 21,000
Busoga Utd 16,000
Brights Stars 11,000
Mbarara City 10,000
UPL clubs on Twitter
Team Handle Followers
KCCA @KCCAFC 42,000
Vipers @VipersSC 33,000
Express @ExpressfcUganda 22,000
SC Villa @SCVillaJogoo 21,000
Onduparaka @ondufc 21,000
URA @URAFC_Official 18,000
Wakiso Giants @WakisoGiantsFC 14,000
Brights Stars @BrightStarsFC 11,000
Bul @Bulfc1 7,400
Busoga Utd @Busogautdfc 5,700
Mbarara City @TeamMbararaCity 2,500
Police @UgPoliceFC 2,000
UPDF @UPDFfc 500
Kyetume @KyetumeFC 360
Myda @mydafc 100