Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Open letter to Jagdish & Somerset: The Rollers Empire

I write to you with a feeling of euphoria clouded by a degree of phobia. I will explain my phobia later as I go. I address you publicly because I am repeatedly told that you are busy. I write this letter also because you each hold a 40% stake in Township Holdings which essentially owns Rollers the club. Also, I want the public to debate this letter. To vilify me now or exonerate me in future. First, I extend sincere gratitude to Township Rollers for pleasantly hosting Kaizer Chiefs, the biggest soccer club in South Africa.

Ok, I accept that it is not easy to play such a team therefore I must acknowledge Rollers performance at the intimidating FNB, the world’s 4th biggest soccer stadium. You played with chutzpah and ambition. Your numbers at Soccer City were scary. I was very proud of Rollers. The sacrifice of your supporters deserves to be rewarded somehow, somewhat. Look, many things bother me about Rollers, and by extension Botswana football. For now I choose you, the co-owners of Rollers. I consider myself an important player in the football marketplace, but the truth is I do not carry any card of any local club because nothing attracts me to any.

I do not have a local team jersey; it’s not just me but many of our people. This is an indictment on you, club owners! We all agree that Rollers are Botswana’s biggest sports brand, both success and volume. I accept that our football is still semi-professional and still have a long way to go. Our players still work elsewhere; they don’t have insurance and 90% of our footballers earn less than P5000.00. Competing against their TV stars like Bernard Parker, Tshepo Masilela, Morgan Gould and Siphiwe Tshabalala each reportedly earning over R400, 000 a month cannot be easy. You crushed out of CAF early but that was not a disgraceful performance ok. For South Africa, football is a job, they take it seriously. The PSL creates about 11,000 permanent jobs, it contributes about R5 billion to South African Gross Domestic Product.

This is big money industry. The question is what is your plan going forward with Rollers? Your players watch PSL every week and aspire to get there. But how many get there? I am a fierce critic of those that say football in this country is a futile exercise because we do not have a population that can consume sufficiently. Look to Qatar, New Zealand and Japan. These countries have clubs and a league that is prudently packaged, succinctly organized, highly lucrative. Their population does not matter. Honestly, I get a sense that Rollers supporters are merely supporting Rollers because of the rich history of the club and mere sentiment.Despite the obscenely expensive tickets during your Chiefs match; they religiously and unconditionally supported you, showing loyalty.

The truth is that there is currently no incentive; there are no tangible benefits for supporting Rollers or any other club locally. TM Choir in Mochudi is better than you, because they have a burial policy in place for members. There is so much goodwill for your club, sad you don’t see it. Please do everything you can to build your club into a professional outfit, a fully-fledged soccer club that runs from 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday in a Rollers office, in a central location accessible to all, with a genuinely beneficial membership. Move Rollers from CA Sales, these are two different brands. Secondly, devise a strategy of ticketing, maybe Computicket. Do not operate like we do at Sikwane Wizards. You started off beautifully with the privatization process, it’s not enough though, lead local clubs towards professionalism. If you cannot Letlapeng cannot either.

The issue of development arises. The world over, clubs invest a huge amount of money in development. You seem to ignore development; Itumeleng Khune joined Chiefs at the age of 14! Samuel Eto’ moved to Europe at the age of 15. Be patient with kids. I know many women in this country who plead with me every day to take their small boys to Ajax and Wits academies. Why not Rollers? Many players in the PSL come from Sundowns Academy because they have a massive scouting network spread around Africa, especially in West and East. Whether these players end up in the Sundowns first team is inconsequential, the fact is Sundowns makes a lot of money because these players go on to other teams. You can do the same.

Look for an international partner in the form of Ajax Cape Town who partnered a Dutch club, Ajax Amsterdam whose philosophy of football is inextricably linked to youth development. That partnership is usually a reciprocal whereby both parties benefit, for example a club like FC Porto, Maccabi Haifa or Olympique Marseille could put up a fully-fledged structure in Gaborone West like that of Ajax or Chiefs at Naturena or Platinum Stars in Phokeng, and fund it whilst that funding club has first priority on your best youth players.┬á This is not a dream or illusion, it happens across the world. Ambitious clubs do it, today Athletico Madrid owns a club in the lucrative Indian Premier League, Athletico Kolkota. You see, Irvin Khoza of Orlando Pirates says his club makes around R500 million a year! Now, assuming that Pirates wins all cups this year, combined, that’s a paltry R28million! NO WAYS! That means there is something that makes money for Pirates.

You do not need ngaka ya Setswana go tswa ko Malawi, its common sense, it is selling merchandise and TV rights! Forget about gate takings, no club in the world survives on gate takings only. Our clubs should aggressively focus on marketing and branding. You and I did not study marketing, but accept that you were wrong to branding that bus with KAIZER CHIEFS whilst it also had Rollers logos and names on it. CAF simply asked you to provide the visiting club with transport, any bus. It could have been a plain white or yellow bus.

That bus looked like a Moeding College bus!Kaizer Chiefs have contractual obligations with their transport sponsor! In future, consult seriously on the implications thereof, also this calls for a qualified marketing person in your office. Prior to that game, there was also confusion about the actual bus taking supporters to Johannesburg between Mahube and AT&T Monnakgotla! That is exactly what happens when you take marketing for granted.

Remember that the Rollers brand is currently in courts for a devastating ownership dispute. Now this is my phobia. I am informed informally, that the two of you are in a ferocious and protracted power struggle for the running of the club. If true, that is sad. There is a palpable tension between the two of you, including supporters.

Journalists too are divided; they choose a title for you every week. My observation leading to the Kaizer Chiefs match is that, Jagdish Shah was more like a Public Relations guy while club spokesman Bafana Pheto was reduced to a peripheral figure in the show. I┬á have been fortunate to work for various media houses in South Africa amongst others Kick-off magazine, Soccer Laduma and 365Digital-where I wrote for Moroka Swallows, Ajax Cape Town and PSL websites, I never interviewed Kaizer, Khoza or Leon Prins for an upcoming match, not even John Comitis. NEVER! They don’t discuss injuries and transfers. The owners leave it to professionals to run these clubs while they focus on policy matters, development and direction of the club. Where is Somerset? My fear is losing the best salesman in local football. Of late he has failed to sell players abroad. Why? My other fear is that Jagdish is new, if he makes mistakes he will get angry and leave the game, work together. Great can brands die. Napoli and Leeds are in oblivion today because of power struggles. Rollers are one of the beautiful things that make our country beautiful, please take care of it.

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