Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Gunning for Ghana’s internet glory

Gary looks at what Ghana’s sports-minded business entities are missing online.

Every day, thousands of Ghanaians around the world trawl the World Wide Web for information about their favourite sports teams, businesses and entities based in Ghana. Since most of these entities are football clubs, most of the allusions in this feature would be in the language of football.


If Ghana is serious about foreign direct investments (FDIs) then we should look the way of improved conduct on sport-related businesses on the internet. Entrepreneurs should not also think that there is no money to be made in this era of the credit crunch, for we now know that in 2008 Ghana’s economy surged by over seven percent. This, at a time, when the world was supposed to have been nose-diving faster than Talal Fattal’s Sporting Mirren did in the last Glo Premier League.

Followed by thousands here in Ghana and owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, Chelsea FC won its first major trophy of the new season, not on the pitch, but by beating Premier League rivals Manchester United to the inaugural SportBusiness Ultimate Sports Websites Award 2009.

The awards were introduced by SportBusiness Group to recognize the increasingly important role that an effective online presence plays in all areas of sport and commerce. These range from attracting and engaging fans to delivering profile for sponsors and cost-effective revenue generation through ticket and merchandise sales.

Chelsea won the overall Award by a single point.

Was there a Ghanaian sport website? Are you kidding me? Of course not.

As at June 2009, internet penetration in Ghana was estimated by the International Telecommunications Union to be a mere 4.2% as compared to 8.7% in Africa. And according to the same statistics, only 997,000 of Ghana’s estimated 23,887,812 population have access to the internet. The next national census would soon be due, and then I can revise my population figures accordingly.

Very soon the country with its sub-regional neighbours would be interconnected with undersea fibre optic cables. This development is expected to increase internet connectivity and access in Ghana. That begs the question of how Ghana’s sports business entities can tap into this watering hole.

What Ghana’s sports business websites need

Internet marketing is now a major, multi-billion dollar industry. Yet the Ghanaian sports industry is on the leeward side of the money makers.

The spending on search engine marketing (the fees advertisers pay to have their adverts shown on search results and websites) is now measured in the billions of dollars rather than millions. As it stands, only few Ghana-based or Ghana-centered football related businesses have fully functioning, monetized and competitive websites that attract heavy web traffic.

I stress on fully functioning, monetized and competitive because many Ghana-based football entities have websites that have either been disconnected or are dormant. Notable examples include the sites of the teams that placed first to fourth in the last Glo Premier League. Giants like Kumasi Asante Kotoko, Accra Hearts of Oak, Heart of Lions and King Faisal as well as emerging forces like Tema Youth and Bechem Chelsea all have inconsistent websites.

In the past, popular websites like soccerghana.com, allghanasoccer.com and Yaw Ampofo-Ankrah’s myghanafootball.com have all gone extinct due to various factors. At the heart of these are the lack of fresh and relevant content, the non-appealing styles of these sites and/or the myopic ambitions of the proprietors.

The business-minded person may set up a website with the aim of making some money. Yet, some have expressed an ingrained fear of building transaction-based football websites that can sell football or sports related materials to the world.

Despite these concerns, study upon study shows that many internet consumers now have the confidence to transact purchases using the web. And, in any case, with the recent introduction of the Verified by Visa (VbV) system by GTBank and a few other issuer banks to reduce the incidence of fraud and later disputes, one cannot give excuses for not doing business over the web from Ghana.

A modern, well presented website is now expected for any serious sports business and organization. A sports business website should explain the products and services offered or, in this case, it should tell the user what the organization is about and what it has to offer in as little time as possible because internet users are not known for their patience. The site should also provide background and general contact information about the sport business.

A website can also allow online transactions of team kits, memorabilia and any other things peculiar to the entity that owns it. A more accessible sports-related website can make the surfing experience better for everyone.

What our sports businesses are missing
The recent SportBusiness Awards I spoke of earlier concentrated on six categories: Content, Community, Style, Monetization, Partnership Activation and Attracting New Fans. Accumulated scores across the categories determined the overall winner of the Ultimate Sports Website Award 2009.

Content
Manchester United’s site (manutd.com) took the honors in this category. A critical look at this site shows that there is a constant effort to ‘create news’ such that even when nothing seems to be happening, the site has fresh ideas at all times. Readers may be skeptical about the potential for similar success in Ghana. That is unfounded.

If anyone cares to listen to the radio stations on an average day in Accra, it is clear that there is so much happening out there that the media houses sometimes complain of having too little staff to do all of it. Player registration information, league scores and tables, charts, historical records, important notices, opinion polls, player statistics and game-by-game information, management decisions, annual and fiscal reports and a whole gamut of miscellaneous data can be put on a standard sport business website.


Community
In internet jargon, a community can be loosely explained as a collection of enthusiasts of a subject or event. In this case, I mean the ability of a sports website to attract like-minded people to stay and discuss matters of mutual interest with fellow aficionados while making money on the time the users spend.

Speaking of Ghanaian football websites, I am hard pressed to find any communities that are more vibrant than those of Ghanasoccernet.com, SportsinGhana.com and Ghanaweb.com. These are user-friendly, click-and-go portals that have good timely content that can be used by all and sundry (although more can be done to improve the grammatical correctness of both websites).

The impact of such websites on the football or sports fan is obvious: they would always recommend such sites to friends and return for more. One other site that is also doing well is ghana.worldcupblog.org.

Style
The style of a sports or football websites needs not be garish and over-decorated. Simple and straightforward is the way to go. Chelsea FC also won the Club/Team Awards in the Style department of the SportBusiness awards and you may log on to their page (chelseafc.com) to see why.

The site caters for the different levels of fan-bases that the Chelsea FC team attracts. Navigation is fluid, not convoluted and winding. This means that whether a fan works with the British Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street or operates an internet café at Mamprobi in Accra, one could find that the site adapts to your tastes. Crucially, the site is compatible with several platforms.

In Ghana, devices such as mobile phones are in widespread use for web-surfing but less so for Personal Digital Aassistants (PDAs) and in-car browsers. Yet for even the technologies that are commonly used to access the internet in the country, we find that many of our sports related websites are inaccessible to these browsing technologies.

Websites should be flexible enough to display on devices such as those I’ve mentioned, while degrading gracefully to work with older technologies such as the good old Pentium 2 computer at that rundown café behind my grandma’s home at North Kaneshie. As many web surfers are embracing broadband internet access, the numerous web designers we have all over town need to remember that a considerable portion of their clients' audience still use slow internet connections.

As I speak, Ghana Telecom’s figures show that a large chunk of their subscribers use less than 125kb download connections. Unduly delaying access to the content of a website can put visitors off and businesses risk losing custom as a result.

Monetization
For every sport business entity, this is one of the most important aspects of having a website. In basic terms, website monetization is the ability to use your site to make money online. And anyone who has followed Deloitte’s yearly ‘Football Money League’ would not be surprised that Manchester United won the monetization category of the SportBusiness website awards.

Manchester United’s site makes use of carefully researched data on internet users’ behavior patterns. The site has cleverly placed adverts in strategic locations and makes sure that it is virtually impossible to miss the colourful and relevant adverts they place all around the site. Conversely, the problem Ghana’s sport-related sites have is that the adverts placed are either not relevant to the visiting users or even if they were, are not strategically placed so that they can be found with ease.

As it is now, I am quite impressed with the use of such current ad-placement techniques by the popular Ghana-centered websites, Myjoyonline and especially Ghanaweb.

Unlike just a year ago, these websites have made sure that users cannot ignore looking at (and more importantly, clicking) the various ads displayed all around the sites. According to Alexa, the web analytics site monitor, Myjoyonline has a daily page viewership of 65,585 and an estimated Daily Advert Revenue of $199.

In addition, Alexa says the website is worth an estimated $145,400 and is the tenth most visited website in Ghana. These are not bad figures at all and also go a long way to show that if run professionally, a strong internet presence by Ghana’s sports businesses could be very profitable.

Other Ghanaian-based businesses must build competitive sites that can make money otherwise the venture of building a website is sadly, wasted. Having a great website without having monetary returns is like weeding a farm daily without ever returning with any food.

Partnership Activation
Every business has partners and associates of one sort or another. In the world of sport business, the increasing nature of globalization means that no one website can operate in a vacuum as the world is one giant web of inter-connected talented people.

In winning this category, the Manchester United website was able to make a substantial amount of profit for its corporate partners, especially Nike and AIG. The sums quoted were in the tens of thousands of dollars and this shows that raising capital for third parties has become so central in web-building that it is a wonder Ghana’s sport businesses have not caught on to this lucrative train.

The human angle
In the end, every website must be manned and accessed by human beings. A casual glance at what Ghana has to show for sports-related websites shows that on the world level, the nation is generally an apology on the World Wide Web. It is either we keep things too complicated or too simplistic and under-ambitious.

Yet, the numbers of computer science students Ghana produces yearly means that this must not be the case. If the club website of Manchester United is worth an estimated $1.85 Million, we can do the same. The reason is stunningly simple: human beings run theirs, so human beings can run ours, too, for profit!

Looking forward to change
The development of sports websites has been meteoric in the past few years. Today they are at the very core of many sports clubs and events around the world, providing a 24/7 interface with fans and creating a real sense of community and belonging and reaching every part of the world.

The best websites have changed the way that the world of sport relates and reacts to its customers, who are the fans. Crucially, Ghanaian sports teams and entities should not feel that the concept of building money-making websites is foreign and alien to this country and the continent. That’s false, because sites in other African domains such as North Africa and South Africa are utilizing modern trends to make money.

And, let’s face it, by having an accessible site football related businesses and organizations can gain respect and good publicity. If I may say so myself, the opportunities that have been open to me since I decided to dedicate proper time and effort into my weblog is a case in point. When this feature sees the light of day in the B&FT, then it is another milestone gained from that blog.

I strongly believe that the lack of vision, ambition and the will to take risks are the self-imposed obstacles Ghana has put in the way of its own internet dominance in sports business.

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