Leighton Levy, Sunday Gleaner Writer
Red Stripe plans to make stars out of some of Jamaica's best footballers in a plan to raise the profile of the Red Stripe Premier League to levels never seen before in this country.
The beer company, now in its second year of a three-year deal to sponsor the 12-team league, intends to continue fulfilling its mandate to raise the bar in the way in which local football is presented to the Jamaican audience.
Late last year, when Red Stripe came on board as title sponsors, the company's head of marketing, Jomo Cato, announced that they were going to shake things up but there were skeptics, among them chairman of the Premier League Clubs Association (PLCA), Edward Seaga.
At the sponsor's launch of the 2012-2013 season at the headquarters of the Jamaica Football Federation on St Lucia Avenue in Kingston on Thursday, Seaga, who is also president of the Tivoli Gardens Football Club, admitted that he wasn't sold on what Red Stripe was proposing, specifically the introduction of Monday Night Football.
However, after witnessing what transpired last season, he is finally convinced that Red Stripe had indeed raised the bar.
Monday Night Football took local football into Jamaican homes in a big way. The broadcast involved major spending, a 50-man team, vibrant hosts and nine cameras transmitting pictures from angles rarely seen in local television production.
"We have pretty detailed data coming from our media agencies tracking the number of households viewing it and it's easy to say we came from a low point in our broadcasts prior to the introduction of Monday Night Football to being the number one show in that time slot," said senior brand manager at Red Stripe, Sean Yelle.
"Also, you saw it in the stands. The first match I went to there was no TV broadcast. It was a quieter match, people were sitting there watching, quietly watching, quietly talking about it but there wasn't a whole lot of rampant celebration. But by the time we got towards the end of the season, a goal would score and you see people running up and down the sidelines. They were yelling, screaming throwing beer up in the air. It was a fantastic thing to see that emotion and that celebration come through."
Raising the bar
Yelle has an idea what it means to raise the bar, having worked in the very aggressive United States mobile phone market as a brand manager for Virgin Mobile USA/Sprint Prepaid Group. He says Red Stripe intends to raise the bar even more this year and plans to use Monday Night Football even higher this year by using the league's best resource, its players.
"Last year we built a successful property and one that had a lot of opportunity to it, but one in which we barely scratched the surface," he said. "So when we look forward to this season we recognise that there are many advances that need to be made, most notably star creation."
Yelle explains that there are players across the island that are incredible football players, but when you ask someone who lives next door to them who are their favourite players they say Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
"The intention for us is to make the island recognise who these guys are, make them become the face of the league and they really kind of stand out and say I connect with that club, I can connect with that team, I can connect with that one player. It really kind of help that force, drive fan involvement and get people out to the game."
It's a process that is not going to happen overnight.
"It's a long process, but one that we intend to kick off this year," the senior brand manager revealed. "Last year we started the process where we brought people in from the league and gave them some media and some public relations training so that when they got in front of a camera they would be able to speak appropriately and properly. This year, we're going to take those same individuals as well as some new ones and really hype them up, highlighting these individuals and their stories.
"And that's the real key to it," Yelle continued. "It's great to kick the ball harder than anybody else, run faster, dribble through everybody, but when you understand what they had to come through in order to get to the league for the vast majority of these players there are really fascinating stories and those stories deserve to be shared."