How Kenyan athletes can turn into 'stars'

Kenya Police's Grace Momanyi (left) and Mercy Cherono finished the 10KM Women category clocking 31:30.4 and 32:07.6 respectively during the East Africa Police Chief Championship at Kenyatta University on Wednesday, Aug 28, 2019. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Forbes recently released the list of the world’s highest paid athletes with tennis stars Roger Federer and Naomi Osaka leading in the men and women categories.

The total earnings were a combination of money the players made on the field of play and endorsement deals.

Looking at the list that also has tennis idol Serena Williams, footballers Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar, as well as basketball, stars LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and golfer Tiger Woods it is easy to assume that the feat is too high for Kenyan athletes to achieve.

However, according to marketing guru Peter Gacheru Kenyans only undoing is failing to realise their full potential because it’s not enough just to win medals and break records for one to qualify as a star.

“Sportsmen and women must go beyond the field if they are to attain the star status. Kenyans have ruled the world over the years, especially in athletics and boxing and brought glory to Kenya but how many can be said to be stars?” he asked.

Speaking during the latest of the NOC-K webinar, “From Champions to Stars” Gacheru asked athletes to go beyond their call on the field, if they are to attract the corporate industry.”Sports is more than just performance. It’s now a business.”

The other panelists in the NOC-K Webinar held on Thursday evening and moderated by Mike Okinyi, included Collins Injera, who was one time highest try scorer in the World Rugby series, currently ranked second and 2014 Commonwealth Games 5000m champion, Mercy Cherono.

Gacheru explained that in sports, one can make money from two fronts thus; performance on the field and secondly from sponsorships and endorsement. He explained that a champion is the person who crosses the finish line first while a star goes beyond the field.

“Simply put, a star has better connection with his or her fans and has top of mind recognition in the sport,” he said.

He added that failure to connect with the fans means one is forgotten the moment they leave the podium and so for athletes to remain relevant after retirement, it’s important for them to master the art of personal branding.

“Kenyan athletes are known to be humble people, focused and very disciplined but their story ends there and so for them to make the best out of their talents this must change.”

He said star status helps one to make revenue beyond active years and that the Covid-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call for athletes as they have lost a lot of opportunities to make income. Cherono revealed that she lost her Nike sponsorship when she went on maternity leave.

“This proves that Nike was only endorsing Mercy due to her performance on the field whereas there are players globally who are no longer active and they are still being endorsed,” explained Gacheru.

He encouraged athletes to capitalise on the power of technology and create a vibrant social media presence.

“Clients want to sell their products and, therefore, they will pay you if you are providing value to them. Athletes need to be known first, we need you on media interviews, press conferences and fans also need to know what is happening in your life away from action.

“You can engage with them perfectly without revealing so much about your personal life. Ladies can leverage on things like maternity leave to inspire others, such can create interest especially if one decided to return to the sport after child birth hence attracting firms that deal in mother and baby products,” Gacheru said.

Rugby star Injera said how he has been able to make money off the pitch. “I have done a couple of social media promotions and a couple of activations that have earned me money,” he revealed.

“I joined Tiktok to beat the boredom during the Covid-19 pandemic. I enjoy cooking and so I posted myself cooking on social media and eventually I started making a little money from it.”