Isn’t it time Maritzburg United got a sponsor?

2008-08-22 00:00

Maritzburg United have the potential to be a very good football team in the Premier Soccer League. They have shown in bouncing back from the First Division to the PSL in the course of a season that they have staying power, they’re here for the long haul, and they’re serious about developing a team that will be competitive in South African football.

But the Kadodias — chairman Farouk and brother Imraan, who are the majority shareholders in the team — cannot do it alone. Given the massive coverage that has been given to United in The Witness over the past four years, and the approaching 2010 World Cup, it seems strange that no big Pietermaritzburg-based company has come forward as a potential sponsor of the team.

United’s last stint in the PSL lasted two seasons and, admittedly, the team struggled. But they showed in their victorious First Division campaign last season how far the club has developed, and how much they have learnt from their experiences in football over the past five years. A tightly-run, efficient Maritzburg United were the best team in the NFD for a simple reason — they were the best managed at administrative level. This filtered down through all the other branches, from the technical staff to the players.

United are aiming to take this approach into the PSL where, post the R1,5 billion SuperSport TV rights and R500 million Absa sponsorship deals, clubs cannot compete without solid structures and efficient management. Last season’s relegation of Black Leopards and Jomo Cosmos was testament to that.

At present United’s source of income comes from the R1 million monthly PSL grant, gate takings and the Kadodias and their fellow investors. New technical sponsors Joma would also have paid a fair sum, outside of equipment commitments, to have their name associated with the club. That collective investment should be enough to get United through the season, given that the club has brought in the country’s most successful coach, Gordon Igesund, and that in a limited time Igesund has managed to put together a very decent squad. Heck, it will be enough to get them through the next six seasons, or more.

But if the city wants a team that, like Bloemfontein Celtic in the Free State, truly captures the imagination of local football fans, and competes for trophies on a regular basis, then just “getting through” will not be enough.

The problem of competing without a sponsor is that the bulk of United’s financial focus has to go to the first team, which they hope will survive and prosper. But this means that the development aspect can become neglected. Imagine a PSL team in Pietermaritzburg with an academy and training fields based on European models. After all, what point is there in a city having a PSL team if the club cannot properly identify, nurture and develop its own home-grown talent?

Igesund says: “With a sponsor we could start a proper development programme, which I think a lot of people are paying attention to at this club”.

“And it’s not a short-term thing. We need to have our development in progress and know that, maybe not next year, but the year after that, we are going to be able to start producing our own players instead of buying them.

“People say you get a million rand a month from the PSL grant, but that doesn’t even cover the salaries, then you’ve got travel and accommodation costs. If we can get a sponsor the playing field between us and the rest of the teams can be levelled even more.”

But a sponsorship of Maritzburg United should not be viewed as an obligation. One would have thought it would have been seen as an opportunity.

Apart from 2010, the landscape of the PSL has changed dramatically in the year that United have been out of the league. The SuperSport deal means that almost every game is now televised, either on the pay-channel or by the SABC. The entire package being offered — with chat shows, featured clubs and variety shows — is of a far higher standard, and increasingly attractive to high income earners. Never mind that there has never been a better instrument than soccer with which to reach the black majority of South Africa. Iwisa’s partnership with Kaizer Chiefs ended well over a decade ago, but persists until today in the collective consciousness.

Apart from development, a sponsorship would also allow United to increase its marketing drive — United have the potential to emulate Celtic and fill what will be a modern, 20 000-seater Harry Gwala Stadium next season with their own fans.

It just seems to this correspondent that if some company does not snap up the United sponsorship soon, they might regret missing out on what seems a tantalising opportunity.

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