Highlanders FC must unlock their commercial value

Highlanders FC must unlock their commercial value
Published: 28 January 2012 (1604 Views)
Orlando Pirates is one of South Africa's oldest football clubs. The club was formed in 1937 in Orlando East, Soweto.

The club's performances over the years have served as an inspiration to young soccer players to strive to play the beautiful game at the highest level in the black and white colours of the "Buccaneers".

The founders of Orlando Pirates included offspring of migrant workers who moved from rural areas to work in the gold mines of Gauteng. Boys in Orlando came together at every available opportunity in open spaces and in informal groupings to play soccer. That original club was called the Orlando Boys Club.

In 1940, Buthuel Mokgosinyane, the first president, bought the first team kit with his own funds. Orlando Boys participated in Johannesburg Bantu Association's Saturday League, where they won the Division Two title and gained promotion to Division One in 1944. Andrew Bassie, a key member of the team, suggested the new name "Orlando Pirates".

The team composed the camp's war cry "Ezimnyama Ngenkani".

Over the years, Orlando Pirates — also known as "The Happy People" — have accumulated a record of successes having won the National Professional Soccer League title in 1971, 1973, 1975 and 1976, the

National Soccer League title in 1994, and the Premier Soccer League title three times, in 2001, 2003 and 2011. Their first place finish in the 2010/2011 domestic league campaigns has generated much excitement among the club's vast fan-base.

Many other cup triumphs in domestic soccer have also been recorded, including Vodacom Challenge title victories in the inaugural 1999 tournament and in 2005. But the African continent and other areas of the

soccer world took notice of Orlando Pirates Football Club when they won the African Champions Cup (now known as the Champions League) in 1995 and the African Super Cup a year later.

Pirates were and still are the only Southern African club to have won the African Champions League. This achievement resulted in the club being honoured by the first State president of the new democratic South Africa, Nelson Mandela — another first for a South African sporting team.

In 2005, Orlando Pirates achieved Superbrand status. Superbrands is an international company that identifies and rewards the leading brands around the world. Pirates are the only South African sports team next to the Springboks and Proteas to be given this status, according to Wikipedia.

The club is now owned by Irvin Khoza, who reportedly bought shares which kept growing, from the club when he got in as secretary.

His relationship with Orlando Pirates started in 1980, when he became its secretary and then owner in 1991.

There are a lot of similarities between Orlando Pirates and Highlanders. Both teams use black and white as their traditional colours and the "X" symbol for danger (skelem), whichever way you look at it, has been adopted by players and fans of both clubs as a salute to one another. Highlanders fans also use the slogan, "Ezimnyama ngenkani", just like Pirates.

However, apart from similarities in that they grew from the society and team colours, nothing else matches the two teams as Pirates are a developed commercial brand while Highlanders are still struggling to unlock their commercial value, perhaps like any other Zimbabwean club.

But as the first club to be formed in the country, they should lead by example and explore the commercial route to emulate what Pirates have done, and one of the issues that must be a priority is to engage Pirates and be sister clubs, which some Memorandum of Understanding of some sort.

It actually baffles why clubs from Harare have found it easy to break into the Johannesburg market when Highlanders have stronger historical ties with most clubs down South than their adversaries in the local league.

The use of Orlando Pirates and its brief history was to try to show that nothing is impossible. There are lessons to be learnt from a club that was formed by the 'povo', who are actually much poorer that those who formed Highlanders, the two grandsons of King Lobengula. It is important to note how the arrival of Khoza at Pirates turned things around as the club took a commercial direction.

The world team of the moment, Barcelona, have 80 000 people watching them in every home game but not even a quarter of them attend clubs meetings to discuss policy issues.

What is my point? Highlanders must take a paradigm shift and move away from being "Iteam yezwe lonke" where it does not make business sense. Why should membership fees be pegged at very low fees that do not make business sense? If one wants to be a member and help the club survive, they should be able to sacrifice and pay what would help the club pay its bills.

Perhaps some of the issues have to do with the constitution, which was ideal for the past, and needs to be revisited to allow a business environment, where those who are supposed to be headman are treated as such and not burdened with roles in the board of such a big institution which needs dynamism.

So much emphasis has been put on trying to come up with a winning team on the field of play, in most cases using short cuts and that is why success over the years have been once off. It has not been sustainable because other arms of the club are lagging behind, most the commercial wing of the club.

The club will have its annual general meeting tomorrow and sadly, those who make decisions do not have the means to finance the team, and those people were not even attending home games as the season came to a close last season.

Perhaps one of the major setbacks of the club is that it has been personalised, with some individuals leading factions, which is very detrimental to its business image. What Highlanders need is value addition, and not value subtraction and when members meet tomorrow, they should look at how they can unlock the club's commercial value, and stop wasting time on petty personal wars.

What a football club needs is financial backing, and what Highlanders need are brains who will bring that financial backing to the club, period.

While factions in the run up to an election are unavoidable, people must learn to outgrow them once elections are over and embrace who ever would have carried the day. Most importantly, it is the duty of the winners to embrace the losers and those who did not vote for them, so that they all move in one direction, something that is often lacking in football administration.

We hope sanity and wisdom will prevail when those who are bona fide members of Highlanders meet tomorrow for the annual general meeting and all those who will attend must remember that the club needs value addition through unlocking of its commercial brand and value.

For comments and contributions, email limncube@yahoo.co.uk. You can also follow the writer on Facebook and Twitter.

- zimpapers

Tags: Bosso, Highlanders,

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