Rwanda Using Team Partnerships, Not Large Scale Events to Rebrand on World Stage

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Rwanda has signed a three-year premium partnership deal with Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). The wide-ranging sponsorship pact will give the Rwandan tourism authority (Visit Rwanda) branding on the men's and women's teams’ warm-ups, on perimeter LED boards and on stadium installations throughout Parc de Princes stadium. PSG has also agreed to provide access to world class players - like Neymar Jr, Kylian Mbappé and Edinson Cavani - for promotional work and to establish a club academy in the Rwandan capital (Kigali). Le Figaro has reported that the deal is worth between $8.9 million and $11.14 million annually, slightly less than the $13.1 million per year that Rwanda will pay Arsenal through ’20-’21 (that deal includes kit sleeve rights).

Howie Long-Short: A partnership between Rwanda and PSG is noteworthy from both the business and sports diplomacy perspectives. Looking at it from strictly a dollars and cents standpoint, the deal gives the African nation a vehicle to promote “local fashion and design [brands], art and culture, coffee and tea [products].” The hope is that the consumption of and exposure to Rwandan goods in the stadium will “drive demand in the European market.” The pact should also provide Rwanda with a platform to showcase its appeal as a vacation destination to the “younger generation.” For PSG, it’s a chance to grow their brand and revenues in a new market (Africa).

Strategic sponsorships with Arsenal and PSG are part of larger sports diplomacy play for Rwanda as the country looks to rebrand itself on the world stage (from a civil war that occurred less than 30 years ago, 1994). Lindsay Sarah Krasnoff - a sports historian and consultant - explained that “sports diplomacy has really come into greater focus for governments, leagues, teams and companies since 2012. Most have focused on hosting large-scale events, but what hasn’t been as carefully mined is the promotion of countries through sports brands” (Australia and their national - as opposed to club - sports tourism campaign is among the exceptions). The problem with leaning on marquee events as one of “the pinnacles of sports diplomacy” is that we’ve seen over the last two decades the costs associated with hosting often outweigh the benefits (see: white elephant stadiums in Brazil, the debt Athens took on relating to the ’04 Games). By aligning with “the biggest and richest” soccer clubs in both the English and Francophone worlds, Rwanda has positioned itself as a player in the “global sports scene” – and it has done so on a budget. Moving forward it would seem reasonable to expect that more foreign governments could look to leverage partnerships with pro sports teams to raise the profile, recognition and awareness of their countries before deciding to earmark billions to bring the Olympics or World Cup to town.

While logical for all the reasons explained, the partnership between the French football club and the African nation is still surprising. “The history between Rwanda and its President Paul Kagame with France is not good, at all.” Krasnoff reminds “French officials have been implicated in being complicit in not stopping the genocide; they previously armed, supplied and trained the Hutu majority that killed +/- 800,000 people - many of them Tutsis - in just 100 days. In 2006, the Rwandan government commissioned an independent report that pointed the finger at French officials for their role in the genocide and the 1994 [assassination] of President Habyarimana. Those findings have still not been officially acknowledged by the French and it has been a point of contention between the two countries since.” To this day, France does not have a full-time ambassador based in Kigali (according to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs). President Macron’s willingness to open the history archives to researchers seeking to investigate this episode has been the catalyst for a warming of the relationship between two long-time adversaries. 

Fan Marino: It should be noted that while Rwanda has committed to spending more than $20 million annually on a pair of global soccer sponsorships, the country was recently forced to pull out of a regional tournament (for East and Central African countries) due to financial constraints. While it’s possible that the Rwandan soccer federation and the federal government have separate pots to draw from, it's worth wondering where the country is getting the money to fund the PSG and Arsenal deals.

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