Passion...patience for the love of sport

Author: 
Ian Gooding
Date Published: 
2004-12-04
Source: 
Trinidad Guardian

If you think it’s easy to “make a killing” in the business of sport, you should first talk to a man who has been trying to do so for the last 16 years: well-known sports personality Anthony Harford.

Harford’s business is called All-Sports Promotion—since he keeps a very open-minded approach to promoting all kinds of sporting activities, but he has concentrated on football and windball cricket which have helped him to earn a living.

His operations recently moved to 9 Long Circular Road, St James, which allows him and his staff of 11—along with many freelancers—to operate with a lot more space.

With eight major events on the sporting calendar next year and a television programme to add leverage to his efforts, 2005 might prove to be the most profitable for one of the few successful sports promotions companies in the country.

But as you may well imagine, things were not always this promising.

Harford said he established the television section of the business in 1996 to give his company a bit more “bargaining power” when talking to sponsors and in order to give the company’s products more exposure by taping and televising their sponsored events.

So how did Harford get into this business of sport?

“Well, I have always heard people talking about the business of sport and I always wondered how to get into it,” he said.

“One day, when I was still a journalist at TTT, I went to a press conference and I remember the English tour guide who came down with the particular group—the Indian football team came to Trinidad many years ago and they were playing two friendlies against T&T—was lamenting the fact that while Trinidad was such a beautiful place and was the ideal destination for sport, he could not find cheap accommodations.

“He told me that English teams would come to Trinidad if the accommodation rates were attractive. And that got me thinking. And I only got into it when I opened a guesthouse with 11 bedrooms on Carlos Street called Kestours.”

He said he charged US$10 a night and the operation was a success. It was only closed when the company decided to get into television.

But it was while operating Kestours that he started providing other services demanded by visiting teams that led to his getting into the real business of sport.

His partner in the business, he said, was RBTT manager Bruce Aanensen.

“But I am the one who gave up my job and decided to run it full-time,” said Harford.

After organising events for foreigners the next development was to manage them, he said.

Harford said that he and Aanensen started travelling to the islands and England advertising their property and selling their services to clubs.

“It wasn’t difficult since we met the right people—tour operators, club managers, the Ministries of Sport, sporting organisations, and word of mouth,” he recalled. We got a lot of business from Tobago as we gave them a special offer. As low as TT$10 or even free, since a lot of Tobagonians were on our national teams. So, we became quite well known. And we actually ran at 75 to 80 per cent occupancy all the time.”

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While catering for all sports, Harford said that his biggest support came from football and the 1989 national team stayed at his guesthouse for a year while in training.

He said that within a year of opening the guesthouse he ventured into organising a ten-day Caribbean cricket tournament using the four top teams in T&T and others from Caribbean islands. It was repeated for one more year, before he started doing other things.

Harford said that while his company was bringing hundreds of visitors into the country, he was always reluctant to approach the Government or Tidco for assistance. All help came from sponsors, he said.

“Whenever I have asked for help was when I felt I was doing something that was authentically regional that needed support,” he said.

After that, people started asking his company to do sporting events for them, he said, but that was short-lived when his company was awarded the contract to promote the Shell Caribbean Cup.

“We had a small staff of about three or four people so we could not do anything else for a while,” said Harford. “We now have 11 full-time employees and a pool of people who work with us on projects as demanded.”

Harford said he did not want to give the impression that All Sports was “wildly successful”, since there had been some very good years and some very poor ones that threatened the survival of the company.

“We were particularly brutally hit in 2000 when the political stalemate came,” he said. “And what we found was that people were not just willing to support sport; there was uncertainty, and nobody seemed interested in investing long-term and big time in sport, with one or two exceptions like Republic Bank with their Youth Football. They kept us going. Clico with its investment in the 2001 Under-17 World Cup football.

“We managed to get by with one or two sponsors staying the course, but largely companies just wouldn’t support sport.

“We got to the point where we thought we had to lay off staff, but we struggled and we kept them.

“We are now over the worse of that political uncertainty and we have found that there is now some interest in sponsoring sport.”

Harford said that the nature of the companies is to support things they like, not necessarily if it was good for the company or the country.

“If a CEO likes a sport or his child is playing it, he would pump some money into it,” said Harford. “We have very few companies in T&T, with the exception of the banks and some insurance companies, that commit to national development in sport.”

Harford said he recalled going to a CEO of a large company to ask for $20,000 to sponsor a youth project and was refused for “lack of funds”, but he was called a month later by the same CEO to cover a golf project he was sponsoring to the tune of $250,000.

“Of course, it’s his money and I don’t let those things worry me,” he said. “But it has convinced me that some people don’t have structured plans to develop a sport.”

There were about eight or ten companies in T&T, including Republic Bank, Clico, Guardian Life, SM Jaleel, Petrotrin, BGTT, NGC, British American and Carib that were serious about developing sport, he said.

“They consistently stay with sport,” he said. “I’ve never been able to convince Atlantic LNG to do any sport. We depend on about ten companies to survive, since it’s impossible to depend on gate receipts to be financially successful.”

He said that companies which were expecting massive crowd participation before it sponsored an event would be disappointed and would not do so.

The fickleness of the T&T sports fan was well known and he would disappear from the stands if his team was not winning. How many times a year is the Oval filled with spectators? Or one of the stadia? Once? Twice? There is no guarantee that you will get a crowd.

“Even police don’t come support police teams. If I get a crowd at a game, that is a bonus,” he said matter-of-factly.

The exception, he said, was if the teams in the finals belonged to a community or village, like Maraval United, San Juan United or Preysal.

“If Queen’s Park make a final in cricket in south, you get ten people, because Queen’s Park is just a big club with 3,000 members of which maybe ten or 12 would make the trip down south to watch Queen’s Park in a final. But if you get Preysal playing against Wanderers, you’ll get a crowd in the final, because there are community-based teams.

“And that’s the reality of sports, so that anybody going into a project in our business saying that gate receipts will see them through...it doesn’t work that way.

“I prefer to offer a sponsor television, so they get their mileage through television and they get their ads in the programme.

“We also promote sporting events that we are not involved in,” he said. “We do three hours on Monday night with ieTV Channel 16, and a five-minute nightly sportscast the rest of the week three times a night.”

“Sports as a Business” was an evolving market with a lot of potential, but “we weren’t there yet,” Harford said.

“Those who come after me will probably do well, because we are laying the foundation and are convincing others that there is a need for companies like ours, and there is a need for the proper management of sport,” he added.

“You will hear Jack Warner saying pretty much the same things I say. And it is true. But it is a very hard sell. My heart goes out to him because of the amount of work he does in football and there is very little support coming back. I don’t know what his challenges are, but I know what mine are. And day in, day out we are pounding the pavement trying to get companies to get involved with us and try to support projects and so on.”

Harford said that there were countless “positives” that could come out of supporting sport, including the production of more national heroes and making scholarships available to sportsmen and women.

Selling a sports project to a company takes proper organisation and the ability to convince its influential members that the project was worthwhile and could generate a lot of goodwill for their company, he said.

Harford also blamed the media as not being “great supporters of sport.”

The production of the weekly sports magazines by the media and other bodies did not help an upcoming event very much since they reported “after the fact” of the event.

“When was the last time a newspaper actively sponsored and supported an event in T&T?” he asked. “The last person to do that was Ken Gordon when he sponsored the Express Great Race and the Mirror doing the marathon. And that is what made them great things. All the newspapers and radio and television stations...what do they sponsor?

“The cost of promoting an event is very high, so if we can get one media house to sponsor one event, you will see sports take a quantum leap in this country.

“The Super League cost us almost $600,000 a year to run,” he said. “We have to raise that through sponsorship.”

As for the Government’s offer of 150 per cent tax allowance up to $1million to companies supporting sporting activities, Harford said he was not sure if it was working.

Harford said that his company might have disappeared a long time ago if he and his staff did not have a love and passion for sport and the job and were not willing to make sacrifices.

“Plus if we did not have the television production side of the operation to offer that benefit to sponsors, we would not have survived,” he said.

“We have survived but we haven’t thrived. I think the potential is there and will improve as we turn out more and more sportsmen who are making it big internationally.

“But I see us as pioneers, and pioneers are hardly the ones who reap the benefit.”

All Sports Promotion, he said, will be involved in eight major events next year. It will also be using its mandate to operate a new radio station next year as a promotional tool for sporting events.

“It will be a station dedicated and committed the promotion of all sports,” he said.

“That should go a long way in cutting down on the costs of promoting events and help all who want to get into this exciting business.”