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Vodacom has got it all wrong with this soccer sponsorship

The Times Editorial | 2012-05-18 00:04:19.0

The Times Editorial: South Africa's two most popular football clubs and one of the country's leading cellphone companies were congratulating one another yesterday after renewing a sponsorship agreement that puts Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates in the league of Manchester United or City.

Forgive us for not sharing their euphoria.

As usual, Vodacom was secretive about the value of the deal, but Pirates chairman Irvin Khoza let the cat out of the bag, saying it was "plus-minus R1-billion".

What?

In times of austerity and - dare we say it - rising cellphone rates, the figure is obscene.

Even if Khoza is exaggerating slightly, it is still a bit hard to swallow that any football team is worth that much, especially one like Chiefs, who will end the season tomorrow without winning a single trophy.

What, then, lies behind such gross indulgence by Vodacom?

If you listen to Khoza, it is because Pirates and Chiefs are a bigger brand "than the 7pm news". And they helped bring peace to the civil war in KwaZulu-Natal during the dying days of apartheid, he claims.

The way Vodacom MD Sipho Maseko sees it, Chiefs and Pirates play a bigger role in the community than just providing football. They represent "success, inspiration and determination to succeed".

Cellphone customers, who have belts to tighten, might not be so generous in their assessments of this massive extravagance. But Vodacom will feel justifiably pleased to hook its brand to such marketable vehicles.

South African football, however, should be aware of the dangers.

Money on this scale, splashed on only two clubs, will lead to the kind of soccer inflation that has turned a once-exciting league like the English Premiership into a virtual two-horse race.

If Chiefs and Pirates spend this money on players, as they are expected to do, few teams will be able to compete. Not even Sundowns. It will make the other 14 teams mere also-rans.

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