Foot­ball Mar­ket­ing – try­ing to flog a bad product!

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - INTERNATIONAL -

We all have heard of the adage, you can­not sell a bad product! And so it would seem when one con­sid­ers the mishaps Sri Lanka Foot­ball has long en­dured! Only last week all DI­A­LOG CHAM­PI­ONS LEAGUE (DCL) matches were called off be­cause ref­er­ees failed to turn up. Poor guys, they had not been paid, we are told! Al­most on cue, the Na­tional Foot­ball Youth Team re­turned to the is­land soundly beaten out of the AFC Tour­na­ment in Ta­jik­istan. The na­tional coach ac­com­pa­ny­ing the team was to lament that they were not paid for their ser­vices; foot­ball num an­thi­mai, he is sup­posed to have cried in the ver­nac­u­lar when a diehard sup­porter tried to com­fort him. As if to com­pen­sate for this mor­bid state of af­fairs, a Swiss foot­ball team, Foot­ball with­out Bor­ders ar­rived in the is­land on a good­will tour which the FFSL em­braced with glee and went on to an­nounce that the na­tional team will be coached by two Euro­pean coaches for the forth­com­ing SAFF Cham­pi­onship in Bangladesh next year; amus­ingly, one of them is sup­posed to fo­cus on fit­ness. How nice!

One wag be­moaned the tragi­com­edy at Foot­ball House, say­ing that the motto of the FFSL seems to be. That is a fair com­ment for fans who are en­ter­tained with con­stant jaunts of Foot­ball with­out Goals the FFSL Pres­i­dent and his co­horts, out on a jet at the drop of a hat. Last week, so­cial me­dia was awash with a Pres­i­den­tial romp on a dessert buggy fol­lowed by a proud pose with the AFC Pres­i­dent at their new of­fices in KL. That is the glam­our that Sri Lanka Foot­ball en­joys, while the sport it­self nose-dives to depths never be­fore seen in this coun­try.

Fol­low­ing elec­tion as Pres­i­dent of the FFSL, Anura De Silva made a glib state­ment that he was as­sured of a spon­sor­ship of­fer, larger than any­thing that Foot­ball had ever seen be­fore in Sri Lanka. That can­not be an idle boast for a sport that lan­guishes with­out any sig­nif­i­cant com­mer­cial sup­port. Sadly, it is known that the Chair­man­ship of the FFSL Mar­ket­ing Com­mit­tee of­fered to a young ty­coon was re­jected by the smart en­tre­pre­neur who ob­vi­ously prefers to take care of his First Di­vi­sion Club rather than join the band­wagon of brethren who are tak­ing the Pres­i­dent down the gar­den path. Nei­ther has the FFSL re­vived its Vi­sion & Mis­sion state­ment, nor has it en­dorsed the mas­ter-plan and bud­get that nor­mally gov­erns its pri­mary ob­jec­tives and out­lines its game plan. All these perquisites are mun­dane de­vi­a­tions for a Foot­ball Man­age­ment whose all con­sum­ing pas­sion seems to be vis­its to citadels of world foot­ball, wav­ing the Sri Lanka Vote in ad­vance of the AFC C or FIFA Con­gresses! One can­not think what other mo­tive drives these self styled ad­min­is­tra­tors whose claim to fame is to take self(ies) with in­ter­na­tional stars and dis­play them at Foot­ball House, as if that alone can of­fer a life of make be­lieve to their poor fol­low­ers at home!

It is a fact that the FFSL never fully un­der­stood the in­tri­ca­cies of brand mar­ket­ing, mis­tak­ing it for spon­sor­ship or oc­ca­sional benev­o­lences from friendly Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tions as well as the largesse of FIFA and AFC. The FFSL never came to grips that to com­mer­cially mar­ket Foot­ball, its product qual­ity and con­sumer de­mand had to be sus­tained and de­vel­oped. Long term ne­glect and pre­pon­der­ance with peren­nial grants from big daddy have kept the FFSL in clover for decades. Sepp Blat­ter re­fined this um­bil­i­cal in­ter­de­pen­dence, per­pet­u­ated even to this day. Thus ac­count­abil­ity is not a watch­word at FFSL; a ROI mind­set is mind gob­bling to these of­fi­cials. The ba­sic premise that gate rev­enues keep the ball in play is be­yond un­der­stand­ing of most jok­ers in the pack! Hand-outs are what is pop­u­lar and greed­ily sought after in the back­rooms of the FFSL.

A few years ago, the FIFA De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram iden­ti­fied a need for a Mar­ket­ing Di­vi­sion to drive rev­enue gen­er­a­tion at the FFSL. Thus a Mar­ket­ing Di­rec­tor was ap­pointed at a never be­fore heard fee and given the task of brin­ing in the shekels to Foot­ball House. FIFA did not re­al­ize the charm of sell­ing a bad product. The hon­est gen­tle­man ended up do­ing ev­ery­thing but mar­ket­ing, while the Ex-Co found a nice whip­ping boy to cover their sins, while do­ing lit­tle else than grand­stand­ing at foot­ball fo­rums. For sure, some sem­blance of Foot­ball Mar­ket­ing did take place when the likes of Trevor Reck­er­man were al­lowed to play in short bursts in the FFSL cor­ri­dors of power. Past event such as the Bris­tol League and the Milo Youth Pro­gram and the re­cent Cargills FA Cup were brief trysts of foot­ball ebul­lience while the grand de­sign of Re­gional Foot­ball Cen­ters and the HOL­CIM com­pe­ti­tions en­gi­neered by the god­fa­ther

foot­ball, Mani­lal Fer­nando can­not be dis­re­garded. These were flashes of bril­liance but the FFSL never fully mas­tered the artistry of ex­ploit­ing the is­land­wide pen­e­tra­tion that Foot­ball of­fered. DI­A­LOG has faith­fully stayed with the sport but with the self­ish in­tent of pre­empt­ing a com­pet­i­tive bid. That the FFSL is com­pelled to sub­sidise the cost of run­ning the DCL is some­thing DI­A­LOG must come to terms with. Oth­er­wise the gi­ant dig­i­tal ser­vice provider will be left with a bad product in its sta­ble.

On top of all penal­ties the FFSL faces, is the specter of grand lar­ceny that goes on un­abated within its doors. For rea­sons not ap­par­ent, the Sports Min­istry con­tin­ues to live in de­nial while mil­lions are spir­ited away. How an or­ga­ni­za­tion pur­sues mar­ket­ing its wares on the one hand and al­low thieves to pil­fer its hard earned funds on the other, is some­thing the min­is­ter will have to an­swer one day!

FFSL boss, Anura de Silva, ex­plor­ing the desert on an ATV, as FFSL is striv­ing to keep alive

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