One of the things I love more than anything about where Roker Report has grown to is who we've managed to speak to. Be it former players about their time at the club, the various local and national journalists we've spoken to regularly, or those with a different twist such as kit manufacturers and the likes.
Today we're delighted to bring you part one of an EXCLUSIVE interview we did with some folks heavily involved in Sunderland's new sponsorship deal. William Pollen is a Director of Invest In Africa, and George Cazenove is the Head of Media Relations and Company Spokesperson for Tullow Oil, who are a founding partner of Invest In Africa.
The pair were very kind to speak to us, and we asked them numerous questions about the deal with Sunderland, what Tullow Oil's involvement with Invest In Africa is, and much more.
Today we start with how the deal came about for the club, try to uncover a few more details about it, and explore the relationship between Sunderland, Invest In Africa and Tullow Oil...
First of all I want to start with Invest In Africa and find out a bit more really. When were you guys founded, what's the goal, what's the mission statement really?
William Pollen (WP): The overview is very simple to be honest, it's what's on our homepage (click here), it's about challenging perceptions of doing business in Africa and to try to present Africa as a brand that is seen as doable from a business perspective, in much the same way Europe is perceived as brand that must be doable - you assume the business procedures and infrastructure is there in Europe. We need to build the same brand around Africa because at the moment it's very much a confused and outdated image.
People associate it with war, famine, poverty, corruption and whatever it might be - they associate it with aid, and we need to shift away from those things because while they do exist, it's in small pockets. There are also huge areas of opportunity and growth, so it's about trying to change people's mindsets and change their misconceptions that Africa is stuck in this 'Band Aid' image of famine and poverty, but actually Africa should be associated with an opportunity for growth in much the way anywhere else should.
The idea of Invest In Africa is to do that by bringing together leading investors, and when I say investors I mean like Tullow's and other leading firms that we're speaking with. I don't mean investors in the capital sense, not all private equity and fund managers etc, leading names, and to use their experience and use their network, use their knowledge of doing business on the continent to help others who may have been on the fence about investing in Africa, who may have dipped their toe in investing in Africa, but not really understood how to do things, and to help them wherever they do put new business, to do it as much as possible with local partners, presenting a genuine transfer of knowledge and skills to local businesses. So it's not just about bringing partners into Africa to take the value, it's about building genuine partnerships for the long-term, which is something that's very much at the heart of Tullow's business, and very much at the heart of Invest In Africa.
George Cazenove (GC): I think I'd just add one point to that William, which is to say and make absolutely clear, I've been quoted in the press as 'this is not a charity and this is a business initiative that will be not for profit, but it is not a charity'. We believe at Tullow that an improved business climate and investment climate will help our business as well.
We feel passionately about Africa as a continent, we feel it's a fantastic place to do business, and we want other people to do business for us, so there's an altruistic side to what we're doing, but we also think an improved business climate will help Tullow's business.
A lot of people have seen the logo and assumed charity, but it's quite clearly not, it's very much an investment opportunity...
WP: Yes, you see money raised will all be reinvested into the events and activities we'll be carrying out to promote Africa as a business continent, and one of those activities is the sponsorship of Sunderland, others will be conferences and forums. The website will become a one-stop-shop for investors on inspiring them to do business in Africa and simplifying Africa as a business destination, so any money raised will go directly back to the events and activities, We're not for profit - we don't have shareholders etc.
About the deal with Sunderland, and obviously we've never had this level of international sponsorship before, it's always been local companies such as Vaux, Tombola, Reg Vardy in the main. The first time we do branch out, we do so into Africa, so we'd like to find out a bit more about how the deal came about - who approached who etc...
WP: A little bit of both, and George can step in at times here I'm sure, but there was what you would call a 'soft launch' in January. So in January Invest In Africa was announced as a concept really, as an idea - and to it there was Sunderland as a partner with this idea. The actual sponsorship wasn't announced until last Monday, but in January in Ghana they announced they were looking to work together on this.
GC: I think to add to that one, Aidan Heavey, is an Irishman who started Tullow 26-years ago and the first project was in Africa and the idea of investment in Africa has been something that he has been thinking about all his business life, and it's something he feels very passionately about, and he's been quoted many times in the press as saying that investment is the future of Africa.
I think that he has been thinking for some time about the best way to promote the concept of investing in Africa for some time, and Sunderland with their own work with the Foundation of Light, he saw a natural partnership. Not least because he sees that the sponsorship of Sunderland as an advertising banner that the world can see. With the viewing figures for the Premier League being massive worldwide, and people seeing Sunderland and seeing the games wherever they are will see that branding 'Invest In Africa' and it's hard to think of a more visible way of promoting a brand, and that really is where the idea came from.
It also dovetails neatly with Sunderland's own ambitions around the Foundation Of Light, but you'd need to talk to the club about their own motivations for wanting to be part of Invest In Africa.
The Chairman, Ellis Short, gave his first press interview the other day, and on there he said something that was important was the sharing of contacts that could come from the deal. Sunderland and Tullow Oil are currently on the list, but can we expect to see more soon, and are they of a major level like ourselves and Tullow Oil?
WP: The sort of people we're speaking to as potential partners are key that they're household names - iconic and successful businesses - in Africa and around the world. So, yes they will be big corporates, and there will be an opportunity for Sunderland to speak to them at whatever level is right for each one. For some, and I'll be completely honest, football won't be right for them and for others it will be absolutely right, and there will be separate opportunities for the commercial team at Sunderland to pursue those - it may be that they just want a little bit of hospitality, it may be that they want to do something with Sunderland in their local market, but yes, others will be involved.
Ellis talking about the future and opening doors to corporates is absolutely right, it's not something that will happen tomorrow, but Invest In Africa is an umbrella brand, and platform under which Tullow sits, but there will be others and as those others come on board, Sunderland will be in a good position as a partner from day one, so it will be a long-term opportunity for them.
It's been described as one of the "biggest" deals in Sunderland's history and it will last a "minimum of two years". I was wondering if you could provide any more detail given the way it's been phrased in the press...
WP: We're obviously not in a position to disclose the exact details but both parties are very happy with the deal that's been agreed, and it is for a minimum of two years, but I can't go into any more detail without infringing on other people's rights, and get in trouble with lawyers etc.
In terms of the length of time, you're absolutely right it is for a minimum of two years. The size of the deal, there's been all sorts of strange figures bandied around and I wouldn't read anything into those other than that both sides are happy with the deal we've reached.
It's definitely a case that Invest In Africa is completely separate from Tullow Oil, I know you said you're sharing an office at the moment though...
WP: It is yes, we're going through the process now of having the articles associated incorporated, so it will exist separately as its own legal entity, limited by guarantee.
GC: I think the important thing to say here is that it's very clear Tullow is funding it, and Tullow is the founding partner and assisting Will in promoting it and looking for new partners.
We are absolutely critical in the funding and the idea itself and every aspect of Invest In Africa so far, but the clear intention from Tullow is - that won't last, and as more partners come on board they will have an equitable share in Invest In Africa, and Tullow will always have the benefit of being the founding partner, but if we say in the future there are six partners, then the brand will be owned and it will be a sixth each. Tullow will be an equal partner with the other partners that come on board.
There have been some suggestions in the press that this is simply a front for Tullow Oil to do some charitable giving, or for Tullow to look good, well there is an element of wanting to get credit for promoting investment in Africa, but the idea it's a front for us is absurd. Yes, we're out there promoting it for a start ourselves, which shows it's not a front, but secondly, we've been very clear that anyone who comes on board will get an equal slice of Invest In Africa as it moves forward.
In all kindness to Will, the sooner he moves out of our offices and is seen as a distinct and separate entity from Tullow the better it will be for Invest In Africa. At the moment he gets all his funding from us, he gets all his resourcing from us, but it is our sincere hope that that will change very soon, because the sooner he moves away it will show we've got partners and we're moving the whole thing forward.
There was a lot of speculation that Invest In Africa was just a front for Tullow, but I think you've explained there that it's just the fact Tullow were there first...
GC: There was one article in The Independent where there's a quote from me that makes it very clear that it's not a front. We've come across some of the cynicism of some of the press this week and we've pushed back pretty hard, and you'd think if it was a front for Tullow we'd be a bit more subtle about it than getting our Chief Executive to write a column about it in The Times.
There is no question at the moment that it is a Tullow inspired outfit and we are wholly associated with it, but I think over time that will change, and I hope it will change.
Join us tomorrow when we'll have more as we talk more with George Cazenove about some of the criticisms leveled at Tullow Oil recently by some quarters, and give him the chance to explain a few things about the way Tullow do business themselves in Africa.