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Rwanda’s football sponsorships need data on impact to clinch the case

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Tuesday, 21 January 2020 18:58

Carvings of Rwanda's mountain gorillas on sale in the capital Kigali. Reuters/Antony Njuguna

Rwanda’s sponsorship deal with the Paris St-Germain football team worth €10m ($11.1m) a year has drawn criticism as an inappropriate priority for a country that remains highly dependent on aid.

The chances are that the investments will be an effective way for the country to promote tourism and development.

In 2018, Rwanda spent £30m ($39.1m) to sponsor Arsenal Football Club in the UK. Critics of the sponsorships include David Himbara, a Rwandan-Canadian professor of international development in Toronto. It’s “highly questionable for a desperately poor state to spend millions of dollars sponsoring European football clubs,” he says.

“Aid money is not directly being used for sponsoring football. Nonetheless, foreign aid finances basic needs that Rwanda itself should finance as a matter of top priority,” he says. “Foreign aid indirectly supports this misplaced and immoral Rwanda state sponsorship of football clubs. Rwanda does not have a genuine tourism strategy.”

Himbara formerly served as private secretary and a policy adviser to Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame between 2000-2002 and 2006-2009. He questions whether business leaders and captains of industry watch European football.

  • In fact, most leading European teams are owned by successful business leaders, and the executive suites at top games are full of them and their guests.
  • Pay-per-view deals with new outlets such as Amazon mean that the mass affluent audience for European football is growing ever larger.

High-end tourism

Rwanda Development Board chief executive Clare Akamanzi said when the PSG sponsorship deal was announced in December that ‘Visit Rwanda’ will be displayed on backdrop banners and stadium installations. The three-year agreement will see Rwandan fashion and design, coffee and tea gain visibility through the club.

Rwanda is well placed to benefit from high-end tourist activity such as gorilla watching, which depends on affluent Westerners, says professor Landry Signé, a political economist at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC.

  • Himbara agrees that tourism in Rwanda will revolve around gorilla watching in the north of the country for the foreseeable future and argues that border closures with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo risk damaging it.
  • It is not obvious how else to reach such a large mass affluent market other than through football advertising, Signé says. The tactic “may be shocking, but it’s original”.
  • The second advertising deal implies the success of the first one, Signé says. The deals are “probably good for tourism and economic development in Rwanda”.

“Tourism is critical for development,” especially through encouraging “industries without smokestacks” such as hotels, restaurants and gifts, Signé says. Non-smoke-stack industries in Africa show much faster growth, he adds. There are also likely to be infrastructure benefits: “The infrastructure has to be there to attract tourists.”

Such spending would be a cause for concern if undertaken by an ineffective government, Signé says. But in terms of announcing things and then getting them done, “Kagame is one of the best,” he argues.

Himbara points to the lack of any published assessment of the impact of the Arsenal sponsorship. Signé agrees that it is important to see the figures on the results of the Arsenal deal and says that he will push Rwanda’s government to release them.

The bottom line: Publishing the figures would help other African governments to assess the effectiveness of sports advertising in tourism marketing.

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