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Who is laughing all the way to the bank now that the World Championships are over?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

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Jamaicans got great psychic pleasure from going to the capital of the former promoters of the African slave trade and reaping a treasure trove of medals at the 2012 London Summer Olympics. When we failed to produce the same success at the just-concluded 16th IAAF World Championships, also held in London, we collectively became crestfallen, almost to the point of depression.

I have a theory that our pain at not winning the accustomed number of medals is made worse by the fact that we do not have much else to look forward to than the feeling that we beat nations that are bigger, richer, and more powerful than us. It is as if we are competing under the weight of a national inferiority complex, which is lifted only when our standing is near the top of the medals table.

Not so for the big, rich and powerful nations. They too want to win medals, but win or lose they are the ones laughing all the way to the bank. The reason is simple. They are active participants in the multi-billion US-dollar global sports industry. We are not. It's questionable whether we even have a sports industry.

In the United States, for example, the sports industry is a well-coordinated revenue generator for the economy. Estimates put earnings in 2014 at US$60.5 billion. This is projected to reach US$73.5 billion by 2019. Money pours in from four main revenue streams: gate receipts, media rights, sponsorships, and merchandise. Add to that the multiplier effect from massive public and private investment in sporting and training venues and facilities; the manufacturing of sports equipment, apparel, footwear and accessories; the contribution in terms of earnings from employment and other economic activities that are hard to disaggregate and value because they are so diffused, and one begins to get a measure of the significant economic contribution of an activity that's now part of an integrated global industry.

Other than jumping up and down in front of our television sets or in Half-Way-Tree shouting goooolllllldddd each time Jamaica wins a race, how much does the country really earn based on the athletic prowess of the likes of Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Asafa Powell, and Elaine Thompson? When it comes to the business aspect of sports, we have proven ourselves to be inept at even making the Trelawny Multi-purpose Stadium self-sustaining, much less viable.

Speaking on the topic 'Jamaica and the IMF' (International Monetary Fund) at the Distinguished Lecture Series put on by the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean, IMF Resident Representative Dr Lonkeng Ngouana was reported in the press making the following observation: “Jamaica should be reaping more economic benefits from the strength of the country's brand which is being under-leveraged. To leverage that brand your goods have to be found in shops in countries where people easily recognise the Jamaican flag.” We knew that all along. The big question is, why aren't we doing anything about it?

Usain Bolt, having demonstrated what is possible on the track to build Brand Jamaica, is showing in business what is possible to exploit Brand Jamaica. From a recent news release through the local press we learned that the Usain Bolt's Tracks & Records chain, in which he is a major shareholder, has signed with the United Kingdom-based Casual Dining Restaurants Group to open 15 outlets of the popular sports bar in the UK over the next five years. Gary Matalon, a partner in Tracks & Records, is quoted in the release saying the following: “This is the first time a local, home-grown concept has evolved into becoming an international franchise. This confirms Brand Jamaica's potential and gives us widespread hope that we can export many other Jamaican brands through this business model.”

Butch Stewart's Sandals Resorts Group, working against the odds, has kept Jamaica's tourism alive and growing by leveraging Brand Jamaica — itself being named one of the top 20 brands in the Commonwealth by Inter-brand Inc. GraceKennedy has, to a lesser degree, done the same thing to reach beyond Jamaican shores to a global market. And so too has a handful of other Jamaican enterprises, targeting mainly the Jamaican Diaspora market.

These efforts are to be lauded and emulated. But the inability to leverage Brand Jamaica goes beyond the actions of a few corporate entities. By my estimate, the value of Brand Jamaica exceeds US$32 billion; twice the country's annual gross domestic product. The question must be asked, why the gap between the value of Brand Jamaica and the value of the goods and services produced by the country?

Until we truthfully answer this question and take meaningful action to address the underlying problems, Jamaica will remain a country known for its athletic prowess — producing sports icons who earn wealth for themselves, but failing to increase the wealth of the nation and of the Jamaican people. Rising gross domestic product is the only thing that can do that.

hmorgan@cwjamaica.com

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