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Money to make or money to lose?

Opinions split on profitability of local sporting industry
Published: 
Thursday, November 23, 2017

Success and how it can be achieved generates a great deal of interest and discussion in sporting circles.

Commonly justified as winning or at least beating individuals or teams seems to be the most voiced perspective among coaches, managers, governing bodies, sport psychologists, athletes and fans.

In Playing to Win: A New Era for Sport (Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2008), the UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said, “When you play sport, you play to win. That is my philosophy. It is also at the heart of this plan that, over time, seeks to change the culture of sport in England.”

However, this perspective is not unique to the UK, but holds a good deal of international currency.

Also sharing this view is a local track and field star who lives and trains in the US. He said, “In T&T, we are always last on the food chain. They want us to train year round but we don’t have access to the facilities, especially during the Carnival period.”

Declining to have his name published as he provided a candid insight into the challenges faced by local athletes, the T&T national went on,”I have sprained my ankle more than once trying to train on tracks that have pot-holes. We always have to fight up to get time to train at facilities owned by other sporting disciplines, so we have to wait until their players have had full use of the respective facility.”

Urging government and investors to realise that there is money to be made from sports but it required investment on all fronts, the athlete added, “Put systems in place to help junior athletes transition from the junior to senior levels. A lot of time, people come to games to lime and fete but for us, this is out bread and butter.”

He went on, “When we don’t perform at our best, there is a backlash from the team’s owners, the managers and fans.”

Confirming he had more opportunities abroad to hone his track and field skills, he said, “In T&T, many athletes have to go to work and school as they realise that sports does not pay the bills.

“But it is difficult when people only get to train for a few hours, so they sometimes get discouraged and give up the sport as they realise they are not getting any benefits in terms of the investment or salary.”

Although T&T is home to some of the best known athletes in the world, questions continue to be asked if there is any money to be made in the sports industry which many have criticised for failing to recognise and invest in local sporting personalities.

According to businessman and former politician and football executive Jack Warner, “There is no money to be had from the sports industry in this country.”

While he admitted there were only one or two events which would generate a profit, he was quick to add, “They are few and far in between.”

Disagreeing with this was president of the T&T Cycling Federation (TTCF), Robert Farrier, who said, “I think it (the industry) is lucrative. However, we need to develop all aspects of sport, not just the athletes but the administrators, the coaches, the trainers and strengthening conditions. All aspects will give us the finished product.”

Farrier believes in order for everyone to benefit, government along with the corporate sector and the national governing bodies (NGBs) representing the various sporting disciplines had to join forces, “to make the product that is the athlete, which is where the business is.”

He added, “When an athlete wins, a lot of people benefit.”

Wading into the time he had spent and the efforts that had been channelled into developing the Professional Football League, Warner claimed, “It was a disaster and always has been.”

Warner said although he spent millions of dollars to help establish the initiative, he never received a single cent in return.

He said, “Even businessmen today are very concerned about sponsorship because they don’t get value for money. I don’t think there is any money to be made in sports as it will forever be at the mercy of whatever government is in power.”

With little hope for the future, Warner added, “There are too many distractions today which cause young people to be sidetracked. All these social media platforms and games on the phone act as competition.”

He explained, “Sports today has more competition than ever before and if the sport is not good, then it will suffer.”

He declared that a sporting renaissance was needed if the economic outlook was to improve or the industry would, “always be down.”

Meanwhile, a senior track and field official added, “while there were a lot of barriers where sports is concerned in T&T, it was a sector which had the potential to generate millions and even billions in profit. Sports today is big business but we do not see that in T&T.”

Indicating that a lack of progress in this area occurred as children were steered away from sports and more towards academics as they enter the education system, the official said this often resulted in people refraining from participating in sports and failing to develop their natural talents.

He urged sporting bodies to be less dependent on government funding and explore alternative revenue and sponsorship options.

“You have to be creative with respect to the development of the sport itself.”

Having introduced the Youth Elite Programme earlier this year, the National Association of Athletics Administrations of T&T (NAAA) said it specifically targeted athletes between the ages of 13 to 19, as they sought to prepare them for transitioning to the senior level.

One official said, “We have a very large attrition rate with our athletes from junior to senior,” which he attributed mainly to a lack of preparation.

He revealed they were now witnessing more injuries among athletes than ever before and, if not treated properly, acted as the main catalyst in preventing them from moving to the next level.

Focusing on the potential benefits and endorsements world-class athletes attract, Farrier believed officials left it too late to support local athletes.

He said, “We need to work on the development of the athlete and putting the product together; it’s like real business.”

Commending government for its efforts to diversify the economy and using sports as one of the mediums, Farrier said, “I think government is moving in the right step by seeking to introduce a sports policy which should outline a lot of the measures that need to be put in place. I believe in giving them all the resources and we have started to put some of those things in place.

Proud of the strides the TTCF had been making in recent months following the opening of the brand new cycling velodrome in Couva, Farrier said they had just installed a technical director to improve their efforts and better guide the help being provided to local athletes.

Looking at the revenue generating aspect the new facility represented, Farrier said, “When you create world- class athletes here, athletes from around the world will want to come here to train because this is where they think they will develop their abilities.

“If we create centres here that create world class athletes, then they will draw athletes from across the world to come here to train. This, in turn, will draw the endorsements and sponsors to our country.”
TTOC head: Focus, structure needed in industry

Confirming the presence of a sporting industry in T&T, president of the T&T Olympic Committee (TTOC), Brian Lewis stressed, “It may not be as structured as it should be or focused as it ought to be.”

He said while there was great amount of economic activity being generated through the sale of sporting goods and services for a profit, it would also be beneficial for sporting bodies to use the current training/sporting facilities as one way to generate international tourism.

Lewis said while, “There must be a transformation and paradigm shift, we don’t need more facilities because right now, we have white elephants.”

Offering up an entrepreneurial perspective, Lewis said, “I am not confident that national sporting organisations and sport administrators are the most apt people to drive the business of sport.

“We need to have entrepreneurs and business people involved who understand the profit motive. When you talk about the business of sports, look around. It is a driver for foreign exchange and it can also act asa knowledge transfer.”

Lewis argued that although T&T continued to sell itself short, “The potential for a sustainable billion-dollar sport industry in T&T is enormous and we ought not to limit it solely to sport tourism and the conversations that have been taking place, but go outside the box.”

TTCB president:

Sports tourism the way to go

President of the T&T Cricket Board (TTCB), Azim Bassarath, expressed concern that the sporting industry in T&T, “was not given the support it is supposed to be given.”

He said, “As it is right now, there is no money any sporting organisation can make unless we dive straight into sports tourism.”

Indicating that many sports administrators continued to offer their services on a voluntary basis because of their passion and love for the various disciplines, Bassarath urged, “We need to get people to buy in to the sport and, in these times, nobody is really getting into sponsoring anything.”

He said it is discouraging to athletes when they fail be given financial aid to further their training and preparations.

Bassarath agreed with Warner that the government of the day, “could be using sports as a political football.”

Sports Minister chimes in

Weighing in on the business of sport, Sports Minister Darryl Smith appealed to the country, at large, to exercise some patience as government had started the ball rolling.

Boasting it was the first time a country had opened five world-class sporting facilities in one year when they were not hosting the Olympics or World Cup, Smith said, “My job was to clean up sports and we have been doing that.”

He added, “This year has been the most successful year for sport in T&T in terms of winning. We are doing our part to ensure T&T moves away from the dependence on oil and gas and diversify with sports tourism.”

He said, “For the first time, we are offering a reward and incentive policy for when athletes qualify for world championships and when they win medals, they will know what they are getting in advance. That has been used as a political football for years and finally a policy is being put in place.”

Smith said he was trying his best but, “the problem with our policies is not just in sports but the country overall—it’s implementing and monitoring of these policies.”

Seeking to change the way things are done, Smith said, “No one follows through to ensure it is done but we have a monitoring and evaluation team in place that is going to monitor all these new policies.”

Claiming that, “A lot of good and positive stuff has happened last year, “ Smith anticipated better things were ahead.

Focused clearly on making T&T the, “sports capital for the region,” the minister said although he was operating with less capital in the year ahead, the ministry intended to make it yet another successful year for the sporting industry.

The 2018 estimate for sport is $281,407,827; compared to the 2017 revised estimate of $279,915,094.

Profitable model exist in football: TTPL CEO

Having generated over $150 million in invested capital from team owners in over the past 14 years, T&T ProLeague (TTPL) CEO Dexter Skeene said, “nothing uplifts the country like football.”

He said although the various owners remained committed to the TTPL, it was time other players stepped up to the plate.

Skeene said efforts were underway to make the TTPL more attractive both to athletes and fans.

“It is a time for rationalisation and transition to a new way of thinking, creating a platform for businesses to use football and sports as a vehicle to market their goods and services.”

Expressing his belief that there was money to be made from the sport, Skeene said global models had demonstrated the need for investment and patience by relevant parties before profits could be realised.

“T&T is no different, we need to attract investors and build revenue streams by monetising the assets we own. Football friendly facilities need to be developed in communities where the teams and fans reside.”

Skeene said it was also about attracting investors and ensuring the infrastructure was in place to help develop athletes.

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