Given that football has become a global commercial phenomenon and in some cases, a leading driver of economies, it is not a surprise that the sport is undisputedly the world’s most popular. In that popularity however lies a unique chance to build, change and form vital perceptions. The opportunity for this has been grabbed, at expensive multi-million pound prices by some of the world’s biggest brands but Azerbaijan, a small eastern European nation, is one of the countries that is starting to add a new dimension to the narrative.
In January 2013, Azerbaijan struck a shirt sponsorship deal with Atletico Madrid for €12 million ($16.1 million). As part of the deal, Atletico Madrid was to aid football development in the oil-rich country by making trips to Baku, the capital city, to train young footballers.
The strategic purpose of the deal, asides the training of a young Azerbaijani footballers, is to project the country of Azerbaijan in a positive and endearing light. Eager to build the perception of a tourist haven and destination, the tag-line ‘Land of Fire’- emblazoned on the shirts of Atletico Madrid- was central to the campaign.
Has the move paid off? It has- without a doubt.
Since the kick-off of the deal, Azerbaijan have launched a host bid for the 2020 Olympics and announced that it will host the Formula One Grand Prix in 2016. While emblazoning the shirts of a Spanish football club did not pave the way for such moves, it certainly complements them and has thus far done a great deal in helping project and promote Azerbaijan as an emerging country, and delivered on its part as an integral component of a wider campaign that has seen extensive media leveraging on the world’s biggest media, including CNN.
As far as forging perceptions go, this has been a runaway success.
In truth, Azerbaijan is not a perfect state as cases of human rights abuse and political oppression abound. While these instances are undesirable, the country has strategically taken control of the creation of an outside perception for many.
What lessons can African nations learn from this?
African nations are subject to some of the world’s most terrible and, sometimes inaccurate, perceptions.
Certain parallels can be drawn between many African nations and Azerbaijan. Attracting foreign direct investment is the Holy Grail of many African countries and given that one of the biggest obstacles to this is the constant and widespread negative perceptions from outsiders, following the Azerbaijan example could well be worth it.
However, striking up a shirt sponsorship agreement does not make all the problems go away.
Also, like Azerbaijan, African nations must be walk the walk.
Construction and investment in Azerbaijan has reached unprecedented levels as the nation appears keen to match its plans with bold action. [eap_ad_2] Printing a country’s name on the front of the shirt of a European club is not a one-way ticket to economic Eldorado. Instead, it is one of the outlets for changing how nations want to be viewed by outsiders. It is part of a wider and strategic work-plan to narrate your own story with the aim of ultimately telling the world that their investments and interests will be safe in your hands. As a matter of fact, this sort of campaign can only be recommended to countries that are absolutely serious about development and have documented signs of progress in many economic facets.
For Azerbaijan, the relationship with Atletico Madrid could not have gone better as the Spanish club have enjoyed a fairytale season in which they have won the Spanish La Liga and finish second in the lucrative UEFA Champions League.
It may be an oil-rich nation but a strategic relationship with a foreign football entity that cost only €12 million ($16.1 million) may yet turn out to be the smartest investment made in months. At €12 m ($16.1 million), the cost of the risk has been low but the rewards have been and will continue to be innumerable.