Former Manchester United boss Sir Matt Busby once said that “football is nothing without fans.”
This is the scenario that is likely to play out on Sunday when Kenya’s two biggest teams, Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards collide in the first leg of the Mashemeji derby at Kasarani.
Local fans have been forced to adapt to the unique lifestyle of following the games from their homes since the FKF Premier League resumed in November last year with matches played behind closed doors in accordance with strict Covid-19 protocols.
Though Betsafe betting company will not get the real value for their money in terms of visibility as major sponsors of the two clubs when they clash in an empty stadium this weekend, the betting firm’s CEO Alex Kobia said yesterday they had come up with different avenues to engage both sets of fans.
Betsafe has been supporting the two Kenyan giants since June when they announced a joint three-year sponsorship deal worth Sh285 million.
“It is unfortunate that fans are not coming to the stadium because actually that’s our primary target, but that does not stop the game from being played. There is an agreement between the federation and the teams where the Mashemeji derby is going to be televised,” Kobia said.
“But regardless of the fans’ situation, we will continue taking care of the players’ welfare and all those involved. We hope our support will help these two teams meet their obligations and when the gates are opened for the fans to go back to the stadium, we will all be rewarded for our efforts.
“We feel safe with Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards as they represent our interests. We also have a lot of things in common. It was important that we team up with big entities like AFC and Gor to show the seriousness we wanted to enter the market with.
“We are publicising the game through our online platforms in collaboration with the clubs as we engage fans in competitions where we are giving away goodies (smartphones, televisions and jerseys) to lucky winners.”
And even as he challenged AFC Leopards to end Gor Mahia’s dominance in the derby, Kobia said he would be happy to see one of them clinch the Premier League title this season.
“As a father, you cannot favour any of your children. But for the purpose of this particular game I would like to see a different winner on Sunday. This will bring a lot of drama, anxiety and increase the level of competition in the league,” Kobia said.
“I would be excited if one of the two teams wins the title. But it is the winner who will be happier because that feat comes with a lot of bonuses from us not only for the league but also continental competitions. There is a lot of motivation for the teams as well for us by marketing the brand through their achievements.”
Asked why he feels it is important for corporates to plough investment on local sports, Kobia said: “It is evident that football is the most followed sport not only in Kenya but in the world. If corporates realise how much they can get from sponsoring sporting activities, they would start pumping money in our football.
It is unfortunate that Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards don’t have their own stadiums. We are not able to do these ourselves but if other sponsors come on board, this dream can be easily achieved.”