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Dear Editor: Can T&T sport pass the brand test? Or are we simply setting our athletes up?

“Imagine you’re at a buffet table and, laid out in front of you, is an orgy of unimaginable delights. Why would you seek out and put on your plate the ones you know are toxic?

“Such is the dilemma of sport in T&T. We have spent so much time, effort and energy running the technical aspects of the game that, quite often, our NSOs have either forgotten or ignored the aspects that make their sport attractive to a major brand.”

The following Letter to the Editor, which looks at the issue of disappearing sponsorship for local sport, was submitted to Wired868 by Dennis Taye Allen:

Photo: W Connection and Club Atlético Pantoja engage in Caribbean Club Championship battle in front of a spattering of patrons at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on 4 February, 2018.
(Courtesy Nicholas Bhajan/CA-Images/Wired868)

“The true test of a man’s character,” John Wooden has famously said, “is what he does when no one is watching.”

In his run of 10 NCAA basketball championships, Wooden must have had many eyes on him. And sport, in this post-truth era of false flags and fake news, once again, has to stand up to the negative scrutiny of the eyes of many.

On the third day of the Third Test match between Australia and South Africa in Cape Town, one man was caught doing something that would reverberate all across the world of top elite sport.

Look past the ball-tampering: what can we learn from this moment?

Professional survives on marketing partnerships with the world’s leading brands they are its life blood. When a brand aligns itself with a sport franchise, it puts its name on the line.

For the sponsors of the Australia Test team, the sacred trust that implies was scuffed beyond repair with the touch of a piece of sticky tape—or sandpaper, as most reports are now confirming it was.

It is irrelevant that the players and officials knew better, that they were good players, that their Baggy Green stands for something special—all that was destroyed when one wrong rub was caught on tape.

Photo: A satirical look at the Australia cricket team’s ball-tampering incident.

What can we take away?

Marketing departments at corporate entities are constantly inundated with sponsorship requests. One college friend who is now in corporate communications indicated that every Monday morning she has to deal with 200-1,000 pieces of mail. Some she never opens—too boring, not enough work put into the presentation. Some she opens and discards because they are not aligned to corporate identity or brand communication ideology.

Some, however, get read and get a call back. An even smaller subset will actually get money or a donation. Very rarely, an exceptional opportunity will present itself and tick all the boxes and corporates will throw the whole weight of their brand behind the proposal.

Let’s ask ourselves: do we have those types of sporting institutions here in T&T? If so, what are they? Where are they?

Imagine you’re at a buffet table and, laid out in front of you, is an orgy of unimaginable delights. Why would you seek out and put on your plate the ones you know are toxic?

Such is the dilemma of sport in T&T. We have spent so much time, effort and energy running the technical aspects of the game that, quite often, our NSOs have either forgotten or ignored the aspects that make their sport attractive to a major brand.

Photo: Trinbago Knight Riders batsman Kevon Cooper celebrates a match-winning knock during the CPL final against St Kitts and Nevis Patriots at the Brian Lara Cricket Academy in Tarouba on 9 September, 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

The world governing bodies will not sanction an LOC for failing to turn a profit on an event or for poorly executing a marketing roll-out. But there will be sanctions if the technical specifications of the sport are not met. So that aspect we get right. The pitch is perfect. The lines on the court are correctly placed. The boundaries clearly and correctly demarcated.

But the fans? Where are the fans? Are they going to come out merely because organisers have got it technically correct?

What about when media houses pick up on the one thing the LOC got wrong? Or what if the only talking point in the tournament was negative? Do media have to function as the LOC’s public relations mouthpiece and hype the positives and spin the negatives? Is that their job? Whose job is it then?

A good place to start examining the reasons for the dearth of corporate sponsorship of sport in T&T and the wider Caribbean is by asking this question: Are our sports toxic?

Recently, after the announcement of the selection of the T&T team to the Commonwealth Games, set for next month in the same Australia mentioned above, some high-profile athletes and officials had a very public tit-for-tat on their public social media pages. That spilled out into the mainstream when media picked up on it and, once again, ran with it straight to the back pages of print and the major sports reports in voice and vision media.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Khalifa St Fort (centre) grabs the baton from teammate Kelly-Ann Baptiste in the Women’s 4 x 100m Relay Round 1 at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 18 August, 2016.
(Copyright Jewel Samad/AFP 2016)

Fair comment or not, mainstream media are not a PR service for NSOs. If that’s the news, that’s what they will report. That is their job.

But look at it from the point of view of the potential corporate sponsor—especially coming on the heels of the email threads exchanged between another prominent athlete and what amounts to the main sponsor of T&T sport. Does that help to reinforce anyone’s brand?

What would a private corporate sponsor have said or done had an athlete taken that position with his/her company?

Honest self-examination often calls for some difficult things. Are we toxic? Do we have a brand that’s podium ready? Have we created a franchise that people want to associate with, be a part of, experience? Have we created an event that brands will benefit from sharing?

Too often, the short answer is no. And when the answer is no, the next question should be this: “How do we fix that?”

The heart of professional sport is the event; that’s the hard currency line items that everyone, every stakeholder—from municipalities and countries to NSOs to LOCs right up to athletes—invests in.

Photo: Bishop Anstey High School (Port-of-Spain) students have a ball during the Coca-Cola National Intercol finals at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 4 December, 2017.
Bishop whipped Pleasantville Secondary 6-0.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

Many in sport here in T&T will insist that we have events. But do we really? Are T&T’s events in line with the expectations of local fans, who have been weaned on televised sports such as the EPL and the NBA?

Are broadcasters willing to air events when they have to invest hard cash into technical production assets to replicate the world standard in the televiewing experience while knowing they have absolutely no hope of harvesting any profit or even recouping any investment from it?

Can we absolve media from sin when sport’s own stakeholders themselves add the poison to the menu?

Here in T&T, we’re at a crossroads. Our youth development approach of the last dozen years has borne fruit. Nearly every NSO can point to some success story at the youth level and many have Tokyo2020 hashtags behind their social media posts, pointing towards aspirations of participation and podiums at the highest levels of sporting excellence.

Can our NSOs deliver? Or are we merely selling dreams?

Photo: A Trinidad and Tobago football fan enjoys the occasion during 2018 World Cup qualifying action against the USA in Couva on 10 October, 2017.
(Copyright Annalisa Caruth/AFP 2018/Wired868)

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Letters to the Editor
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15 comments

  1. My thoughts: We need to address the lack of visibility/ awareness of our national athletes. Even some of our elite athletes are generally unknown. I’ve always said we need portfolios on our sportsmen and women. Let the public get to know them initmately..and not just from a sport angle. I did this at the Guardian some years ago for the then Soca Warrriors team in my ‘Warriors Reloaded Column’… I think the TTOC is doing a good job at it. But we need more hands on deck.
    As it relates to sponsorship..local corporate companies do not give without getting..which isn’t wrong in the world of business.. but it can be discouraging. CSR is a nice phrase for ‘let me show TnT what I’m doing for you but you need to do something for me.’ Athletes need to first perform in order to see the light of day where sponsorship is concerned. And even when they are performing it’s something. (Akeem comes to mind). Performance however won’t be a problem if they were getting the necessary funding and support needed to compete to the best of their abilities.
    The ministry or sport has become more about the minister than sport. It is not athlete focused. Truth is there are too many holes that need to be filled before we can have this prospering sport industry we speak of every 5 years. Y’all remember the drama with the Track meet dem crazy people tried to have here?..and when the ting fold up..homegirl bawl ‘the after party is still on!”
    Anyhow..Good story Dennis Allen

  2. I would ask one additional question “Are we willing to give the younger Sports Management professionals the opportunity to build our brand?”

  3. Very well written and insightful letter. Definitely food for thought. Not that many sports ministers past and present will get excited for that kinda food.. except maybe Gary as he’s in the food business. By the way Gary turning out to be our bestest sports minister ever eh! Who would have thought

  4. Careful with yuh words dey ‘Sana. Certain Sports Ministers past and present may get excited with that first paragraph.

  5. Interesting

    Is there a follow-up to this?