The curtains closed on the tumultuous 2020/21 Football Kenya Federation (FKF) Premier League season on Sunday, August 22 as Tusker FC were crowned champions for the first time since 2016. The Robert Matano-led side lifted their twelfth ever league trophy following a 2-1 win against Bidco United on the final day.
After a five year absence, Tusker will return to the continental stage as Kenya’s representatives in the CAF Champions League. They begin with a two-legged first preliminary round tie against Djibouti Premier League champions AS Arta in September.
Tusker FC is backed by the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE)-listed East African Breweries Limited (EABL). The club was established in 1969 and is named after the sponsor’s flagship brand – Tusker lager. Up until 1999, it was known as Kenya Breweries.
Judging from the signings being made at the Ruaraka-based side, executives within the club and EABL seem to understand the rewarding venture a successful Champions League run could be not only for the football club and its coffers but also EABL’s bottom-line, brands and Kenyan football in general.
In preparation, Tusker has signed several players including the highly-rated, young AFC Leopards centre-back Clyde Senaji as well as Harambee Stars goalkeeper Patrick Matasi who rejoins the club after leaving in 2018 for Ethiopian giants St. Georges. The club remains linked to several other players.
For an example of what a proper continental run can do for you, look no further than neighboring Tanzania whose champions Simba S.C made it to the quarter-finals of last season’s Champions League.
First of all, it opens up incredible opportunities for players. Simba’s star man in the Champions League – Mozambique international Luis Miquissone – had such an impressive tournament that reigning champions Al Ahly went all out to sign him in August for a $900,000 (Ksh98.6 million) transfer fee. In 12 CAF Champions League appearances with Simba, Miquissone had bagged three goals and three assists.
Another of Simba’s best players for the season – Clatous Chama – has also completed his move to Morrocan giants FAR Rabat for a reported $600,000 (Ksh65.7 million) fee).
Some of Tusker’s best players may yet find themselves on the radar of suitors from the continent and beyond should they impress. Funds from player sales allow clubs to reinvest in talent as well as youth development structures, facilities and more.
In addition, starring on the continental stage boosts clubs’ ability to attract lucrative deals, partnerships and marketing tie-ins. For example, Simba wore ‘Visit Tanzania’ on its jerseys for Champions League fixtures last season and were credited by the country’s Ministry of Natural Resources for boosting awareness and visibility of Tanzania as a tourism destination.
This coming season will undoubtedly be an even bigger offering on the visibility front as Supersport – the continent’s largest sports broadcaster – has secured rights for the CAF club competitions and AFCON for the first time in two years. Supersport had been unable to broadcast CAF Champions League matches since 2019 as it secured rights through an agency, Lagardere, whose deal with CAF was controversially terminated.
“For the matches that Simba have played so far you can imagine how many people have got the message through either attendance or watching, on television or on social media,” Tanzania’s Tourism and Natural Resources Minister Damas Ndumbaro had observed about Simba’s exploits and the ‘Visit Tanzania’ campaign.
Tusker has the added advantage of having its flagship brand front and centre. Tusker is already one of Africa’s most famous beers. By becoming Champions League regulars or having a great run in the competition, the Tusker brand could easily be etched in the minds of fans across a football-mad continent.
Beverage manufacturers around the world have always found football to be effective for their marketing needs. Heineken has a long association with the UEFA Champions League, Red Bull owns multiple football clubs, Budweiser sponsors Lionel Messi and it’s nearly impossible to watch a Premier League match on TV in Africa without a Guinness ad.
A good continental run can also be good news for a club’s coffers. Making it to the group stage guarantees them at least $550,000 (Ksh60.2 million). Larger cash rewards are on offer for reaching the quarters and semis. The eventual winners get prize money of $2.5 million while the runners up receive $1.25 million.
Finally, it’s always beautiful to watch Kenyans rally around their sportsmen and women. At a time when the beautiful game in Kenya is being rocked from all directions, Tusker and Gor Mahia (Kenya’s representatives in the CAF Confederations Cup) could give fans something to smile about.
It would also give clubs impetus to get their affairs in order to to compete with the continent’s best. CAF club licensing rules and their enforcement are only getting more stringent, and from 2022, clubs won’t even be able to take part in the Champions League without having a women’s side.
You can rest assured many fans of Kenyan football will be hoping Tusker don’t fumble the bag.