Highlanders’ fortunes on the soccer pitch may have been mixed since winning their last premiership title back in 2006, but the club’s performance away from the field has been stellar during the same period.
Aspiring Highlanders secretary-general, Morgen ‘Gazza’ Dube says revenues may have risen during this period mostly due to prudent spending, the assistance from supporters as well as solid corporate partnerships.
The veteran administrator and businessman says commercial success is reliant on two key elements. The first is having a successful team that can win prize money, secure more attention from broadcasters and attract star players.
The second is maintaining and growing the fan base.
According to the Victoria Falls based former player, coach and administrator, succeeding in the first part of that strategy contributes significantly to the latter, but as football becomes more globalised, fan engagement is essential.
“In future, part of Highlanders’ success will be attributed to not just signing blockbuster shirt sponsorship deals but also more specific arrangements covering individual industries,” Dube said.
The Bosso secretary-general aspirant says more supporters mean more lucrative sponsorship deals and more commercial opportunities. And that’s why football clubs are increasingly battling it out in the digital arena as well as in the stadium.
Dube believes that Highlanders should invest significantly in its content and digital operations.
“The rest of the football world has made significant strides in developing and implementing digital strategies to grow commercially. Highlanders is no different, and must spend time and resources to build a robust digital platform that will extend across all parts of the business. Essentially, it will allow the club to reach out to supporters on a more detailed basis and can scale up during special events such as match days,” Dube shared.
The club has millions of followers around the world, and the platform will give it a single view of fans across multiple touch points such as webcasting, e-commerce, events and experiences such as the official museum and tour.
“We probably need to re-launch the official website and develop the club’s first official mobile application, which will increase fan engagement,” said Dube.
Dube feels there is a need for the club to incorporate a fully-fledged digital operation to oversee these digital experiences.
“As we enter the digital world, I would like to see everything digital, whether that’s our website, our social platforms, photography or match day accreditation,” he says.
“We should have a 24-7 linear TV network called maybe BossoTV and have an editorial staff that will create content for online, our match day programme and maybe even a monthly magazine.
“The vision for me is to continue to grow reach and engagement. It’s also about diversifying the fan base and that enhances club-wise initiatives. The more we know about our users, the more content and merchandise we can offer them. The more knowledge we have the more we can grow the business,” he added.
Dube believes that if a supporter chooses to consume content from an official club channel rather than a third party, such as a newspaper or website, then the club gains more information about the supporter.
He also highlighted the differences between the Zimbabwe football leagues and elsewhere in the world where clubs have greater control over their media rights.
“While centralised deals covering live matches and immediate highlights are an important source of revenue, clubs have much more freedom with what they do with this content 48 hours after a match. I would like to see a scenario where clubs have more control over their media rights,” said Dube.
Dube believes this shows sports organisations are increasingly becoming media companies and that its online platform is constantly evolving.
For example, if the club can see one supporter looks at content related to Ariel Sibanda more often, then the club can feed that user more of his video and editorial across all platforms.
“Although traditionalists will probably wince at my vision regarding digital media, sport is no different to other industries.”
Dube argues that digital transformation is just as relevant to a modern football club.
“Everybody gets passionate about the football aspect of Highlanders, but at the end of the day, it’s a business like anyone else,” Dube goes on to assert.
“It’s more out there in the public eye, but the same set of challenges as any company.”
“When you have a large heritage to move to a digital world, it’s a tough process. But the amount of time and effort is very similar to any other enterprise customer. There are benefits of working with Highlanders but at the core, it’s a business.”
The rise of online streaming is one of the biggest topics of conversation within the sporting world at present.
Companies have launched dedicated services around the world, bypassing traditional broadcast platforms.