When it comes to Big Bullets and Mighty Wanderers, there are only two measures of justice to Blantyre football bragging rights; a win or a loss.
A draw is and will never be an acceptable result. You thus can guess what Carlsberg Malawi Limited’s decision to sponsor both teams at K15 million (about $36 000) each means.
Bitter reaction, especially from the red side of town, said it all on social network forums.
One fan posted on Facebook that European football experiences worst violence compared to the sins of Bullets and Wanderers.
Market analyst Wilkins Mijiga a few years ago argued that Malawi’s economy is small; hence, bad press which hooliganism generates gets too concentrated and hurts sponsors easily.
Mijiga, a former Carlsberg Malawi Lmited senior employee who was behind the pioneer Carlsberg Cup, knows better.
For example, in South Africa some 40 fans died in the famous Ellis Park tragedy at the turn of the century during a Soweto derby between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, but the league sponsors never withdrew.
It goes back to the same Mijiga point. South Africa is a country of over 50 million people, the biggest Africa economy. If anything, the bad football publicity works wonders on a brand name.
Not with Malawi. What Carlsberg did not remind Bullets and Nomads is that the brewer is in business and not running a charity.
Carlsberg are big players on a wobbly economic front of kwacha floatation and run away interest rates.
Their beer prices are also floating. Carlsberg Malawi corporate affairs manager Towela Pilling gave a hint in The Nation edition of April 15 2013.
“Price increases are set according to a number of variables, including cost of raw material, commodity price cycles, transportation, freight costs (fuel costs), exchange rates and the general inflation outlook,” Pilling noted.
It is swim-or-sink. Malawi Distilleries, Carlsberg Malawi’s sister company, faces closure.
“We are making K200 million (about $477 000) loss because we cannot afford to sell at the current duty rates,” Carlsberg Malawi Limited chief executive officer Abel Chanje was quoted as saying in The Nation of April 8 2013.
There is need to read between the lines of Carlsberg sponsorship. Compare the time Carlsberg made the sponsorship pledge, last year, and now.
Bullets and Nomads should know that the country’s economic health is operating on a dosage called the Economic Recovery Plan (ERP).
Austerity measures are the gospel being preached everywhere. Carlsberg can only be faithful to this gospel, lest they are denied salvation.
For a company that has always enjoyed exclusive Carlsberg brand rights in Africa and whose beer brands is guzzled in millions of litres everyday, the muted unveiling of the Bullets and Nomads sponsorship reflected the austerity spirit.
Chanje unveiled the sponsorship inside a small and crammed Mulanje Room at Protea Ryalls Hotel.
In 2003, Carlsberg Cup launch swallowed three rooms along the Mulanje Room section, to launch the cup. There was not even a CEO.
But at the launch a fortnight ago, there were no ever-smiling models, an outsourced MC, let alone invited guests of honours such as government officials.
Chanje had to be there to ensure that the two teams understand that in the 21st century, there are no free lunches.
He needed to remind them that last season neither side did enough to earn the money; hence, the sponsorship deadlock.
“I want to remind you that Carlsberg does not condone violence. Both teams have performed almost at par. There was no much significance in behaviour and performance,” Chanje said amid yelling, pushing and shoving at the entrance by uninvited fans.
In an informal chat, one of the two giants’ officials admitted being less impressed with the delayed sponsorship announcement, let alone the actual amount.
His argument was logical and simple.
“Before the devaluation of the kwacha, a Super League team needed some K30 million (about $72 000) to finish a season, but it should now be double that much,” he reasoned.
He had a point, but he missed the bigger point that time for domestic football to bank on wholesale company sponsorship is over.
Some club administrators, such as Bullets chairperson Malinda Chinyama, understand that clubs now have to learn to generate own revenue.
“We have to use the money as a start-up capital for commercialisation. We cannot complain. We do not even deserve this. We have to fend for ourselves. There are even companies that cannot even give a team K1 million (about $2 380),” said Chinyama.
Thinking along Chinyama’s line, then the K15 million (about $36 000) should seem like manna.
Others might argue that Carlsberg are gaining mileage from football. Surely, Carlsberg will gain some mileage associating with the big clubs, but there is nothing much suggesting that the giants have developed a business innovation to benefit Carlsberg.
In fact, no domestic club has been able to do that—answer the ‘what is in it for us’ question which potential sponsors always ask.
To cut a long story short, Carlsberg Malawi’s decision looks like a regret; a mere fulfillment of a promise made during better days. Beyond next season, Carlsberg might be gone for good.
Writing in his recent Weekend Nation column, football analyst Gracian Tukula put it bluntly: “Carlsberg’s equal sponsorship for Bullets and Wanderers might be an exit strategy.”