Maritzburg United: it’s been a historic season

2014-05-23 00:00

WHEN I decided on a change in work environment, one thing I was clear about was that whatever I would be doing after leaving the municipality, it would have to involve marketing the city of Pietermaritzburg and contributing to the exposure of this wonderful brand. I am very passionate about my city.

I joined Maritzburg United as marketing and communications manager because I believe strongly that this club has an overwhelming contribution to make in marketing our city, as well as contributing to its economy. Many big events are held in our city on an annual basis, raising our city’s profile. The difference is that many of them run either for a day or a few days once a year. Maritzburg United plays 15 home games, excluding cup games. A minimum of 24 games are televised either on SABC or SuperSport. That is massive exposure brought about by our Team of Choice.

Many of our people, for whom football is their primary means of entertainment and socialising, are able to watch their favourite teams live in their own city, teams like Chiefs, Pirates and Sundowns, because we have Maritzburg United.

People who live in cities without football clubs that play in the Premier Soccer League are deprived of this. They either have to travel long distances to watch their teams, which is expensive, or they have to rely on television. Maritzburg United is a golden asset, not only for the city, but for KwaZulu-Natal, in the same way that AmaZulu and Golden Arrows are. It is unfortunate that in the coming season, KZN will be represented only by two teams, which means extra costs in terms of travelling expenses.

This year, history was made at Harry Gwala Stadium. On March 11, the Freedom Flame that was doing the rounds throughout KZN, landed at Harry Gwala Stadium when Maritzburg United hosted the Free State Stars. MEC for Finance Ina Cronje, Msunduzi Municipality Mayor Chris Ndlela, uMgungundlovu Mayor Yusuf Bhamjee to mention a few, were part of the government delegation that descended on the stadium with the flame.

For the first time, a cup semi-final, the Nedbank Cup, was played at Harry Gwala Stadium. Let’s be honest, a cup semi-final is the highest level of any cup competition that can be played at our stadium, because a final will never be played there. That game against Orlando Pirates is historic. It enjoyed dual television coverage, by both SuperSport and SABC, which translated to a viewership of more than four million people. All eyes were on Maritzburg on that day. What exposure.

As if that was not enough, the following Saturday, May 10, history was made again. The Absa Premiership trophy was handed to the champions, Sundowns, and this was happening at Harry Gwala Stadium for the first time. What an experience for local football lovers, and again, dual television coverage and over four million viewers. The Msunduzi Municipality must be commended for assisting us in getting ready to host those big games. We thank our supporters who always come in their numbers.

Having said all of that, people do not realise the challenges of running a football club without sponsorship. It is a miracle that this club has been kept afloat for the past 11 years in the PSL. While the PSL grant to the clubs increases slightly once in a while, club-running expenses increase every year. Players’ salaries, flights, transport and accommodation costs escalate all the time. Without a sponsor, it is almost impossible to keep up.

For any coach to be able to implement his plan and achieve his objectives, and those set by club management, he has to work under an enabling environment. There must be proper training facilities for the club, which include a fully fledged gym (perhaps a high-performance centre), proper training fields with good surfaces, change rooms and showers, offices and a pool, to mention just a few. A coach needs to have a well-structured development academy in the club. This provides him with a pool from which to draw players, and gives him an opportunity to mentor them while they are at the academy. It also provides a source of revenue for the club when it has to sell these players. Without a sponsor or government support, we cannot achieve all of this.

The most successful teams, Pirates and Chiefs, have millions of rands worth of sponsorship, and all the other teams in Gauteng — Sundowns, Wits and SuperSport — have massive sponsorships, which is why they do well.

Moroka Swallows lost their sponsorship and they were almost relegated this past season. Golden Arrows lost their sponsorship and they were relegated.

A year or two ago, the Eastern Cape government offered to relocate Maritzburg United there to use the Nelson Mandela Bay World Cup Stadium as their home ground, as well as many other facilities, including financial support. Maritzburg declined the offer for the love of our city, hoping, ultimately, that some kind of financial support would be forthcoming. The same offer was recently offered to newly promoted Chippa United.

We don’t know what happened, but with an offer like that and financial support, a club is able to attract all the players and technical staff it wants.

With two KZN teams left in the PSL, sponsorship for Maritzburg United is vital. AmaZulu have a long-standing sponsorship from Spar; they are much better off. What about us?

• Brian Zuma is the marketing and communications manager for Maritzburg United.

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