Exclusive Interview: Looking At The Future For SAFC & Invest In Africa With William Pollen

We sit down with William Pollen to look at what the future holds in this partnership between Sunderland and Invest In Africa.

If you've been following closely enough, you'll have noticed our interviews with Invest In Africa director, William Pollen and Tullow Oil director George Cazenove taking centre stage on the site over the last few days. You can read part one where we talked about how the deal came about HERE and you can read part two where George answered some criticisms of Tullow Oil HERE.

In this third and final part, we chat with director of Invest In Africa, William Pollen, a little further as we look into the deal more, and what the future could hold for both themselves and our club...

Where do we see this deal in say, five years time? Even if Invest In Africa are no longer associated with Sunderland by then, where do you think all parties will have progressed to?

William Pollen (WP): We hope that in five years time the project is established and understood, and has shifted the perceptions I spoke to you about earlier (in part one - here), so foreign businesses that are still stuck in that old mindset of what Africa's all about have at least started to look at it as a serious business destination, and no longer look at it as the 7th, 8th or 9th option on a long list behind Europe, Asia, Russia, Brazil, China etc. It's a long-term mission shifting those perceptions.

For some people it will be just about nudging them along to get over these perceptions, for others they might need a lot more convincing.

For Invest In Africa it will be about becoming the brand that represent doing business in Africa, and the brand that people will come to for advice. Businesses who want to come into Africa will be helped into Africa, and local Governments will come in to help us facilitate new investment into their own countries.

For partners it will be about improving their own situation and profile abroad and in local markets in Africa. So for a founding partner that might be about improving the understanding of what they do in that country. There may be a misunderstanding for example and maybe they want to address that. Becoming a founding partner in Invest In Africa gives them a chance to voice their business and what they do and what they're all about, and why they feel they're doing the right thing and they're a benefit to the local economy, as well as how they work with local companies.

For partners like Sunderland it's about where have they got to with local fans, have they managed to increase their fanbase in Africa, can they turn that into a revenue stream, are they now seeing more African players come to them by having better access to players, are they increasing revenue on a matchday or from sponsorship and hospitality with African companies?

We're already in discussions with various global football websites, and what's really interesting is we have companies like these ringing us up and saying "we'd love to do something with Sunderland in Africa, but we don't know what's right for them" and it goes to show how you can open up markets for both ourselves and for Sunderland.

Invest In Africa doesn't really have an end point, it's not like we can ever say "well we've done our job now, we can go home now", it's about constantly building and creating a brand that just gets bigger and bigger, becomes more and more networked and becomes more influential, as well as constantly bringing more parties to the table - whether it be more investors or local companies. Ultimately we will be judged by the quality of the partners we bring on board, and eventually by the amount of business and new business contracts we are able to drive into the continent.

Sunderland have links in Ghana with Asante Kotoko, and we've spoken at length about Ghana, Uganda and Congo, but Invest In Africa is for the whole of Africa isn't it?

WP: Absolutely it's about the whole of Africa, with the recognition that every market is very different. It's not one-size fits all, and the problems Africa faces on perception issues are generic across the board - people put Africa in one bracket and say "well all these problems I associate with the continent" - so we need to address the problems as one place, but the solution will need to be more bespoke.

Tullow have been operating in over 20 countries, and are very conscious of the differences between the marketplaces.

Niall Quinn once mentioned that the naming rights to the Stadium Of Light could be up for grabs if the offer was right, and many fans have wondered about it. Is it something that Invest In Africa or Tullow Oil might one day be interested in doing?

WP: Not at this stage I wouldn't imagine. It's not a discussion we've had and it's not a discussion we plan on having. This is about brand awareness and we can achieve that by being on the shirt and remaining on the shirt, and I don't think the stadium naming rights give us anything like the profile, the awareness and the eyeballs on it that shirt sponsorship does. I'd be very surprised if we ever went down this road.

At the launch of the deal Adian Heavey said that he saw Sunderland as becoming quite quickly the biggest team in Africa. Do you think that's a realistic possibility?

WP: I was wondering when you'd come to that, the "bigger than Man United" quote! The guy's full of enthusiasm and he's a brilliant entrepreneur. He's built Tullow from scratch and he always sees the upside in things and he's very ambitious, so hey, why not?

I think the point he was getting at was that you're not going to make Sunderland bigger than Man United overnight, Sunderland aren't going to suddenly transform into having the biggest following, because you only have to go out there to see the thousands and thousands of kids wearing Man United and Chelsea shirts, but having said that you do see Sunderland too.

The point he was getting at is that if you were an African kid or an African teenager, growing up in Africa and you had the chance to wear a shirt that said AIG, or Visa or whoever on it, OR you had the choice to have one that said "Invest In Africa" on it - how cool would that make you feel to have that on your chest, as a kid, running around playing football, and how proud it would make you feel that there's a club out there that believes in the future of your continent?

It's a great opportunity to become the brand of African grassroots football, so that's the point he was getting at, and over time you can develop into the 300 million Premier League viewers.

Recently the New England Patriots came top in a poll of the most popular NFL teams in the UK, so you can see that tenuous links can actually breed new supporters. Do you think that a similar situation could occur with Sunderland in Africa on the back of this deal?

WP: Well yeah you're right. At it's most simple level though it comes down to you know, why do you support Sunderland? - Because it's where you're from. Similarly many other people support the side from where they are from, where they're born and where their roots are from.

Most African fans that support Man United, aren't from Manchester, they're from Africa - living breathing and working in Africa. So to have the opportunity to wear a shirt that says "Invest In Africa" i.e. where I'm from - this is the first time they've had the opportunity to wear a Premier League shirt that has far more to do with them than any of the others.

I see this it as a massive opportunity, and both sides are very, very confident that this will be a great partnership with an exciting future.

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Once again we must extend our thanks to William Pollen of Invest In Africa and George Cazenove of Tullow Oil for sharing their thoughts with us, and answering our questions about the sponsorship deal with Sunderland. Visit the Invest In Africa website for more information about our new sponsors - www.investinafrica.com

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