SportPesa: The rise and fall of Kenya’s betting giant

Betting giant SportPesa

SportPesa is a Kenyan based sports betting company.  SportPesa as its brand name suggests that one earns from supports and that’s through participating in betting. Founded in February of 2014, the company went through rapid development to what it is today known. In February 2014, M/S Pevans East Africa Limited which owns the company’s trademark pumped in an estimated total amount of 400 million Kenyan Shillings. It was an investment that made SportPesa start tall above her competitors in the country. The company came at the right time, a time that gambling and betting across the world were on the rise. They came and they conquered. Coupled with high rates of unemployment in the country betting culture thrived in the Kenyan market.

 Heading to the 2014 World Cup Finals in Brazil, SportPesa had gained a big chunk of the Kenyan market. It had transformed into a household name. Prior to that particular global event, the company wasn’t as known as it emerged later on. Majorly internationally owned, Kenya had had the taste of betting culture from companies such as Betway and BetIn Kenya. Through sending referrals to its customers, the company gained a huge customer base. Its name made it possible to sell and gain ground among the people of Kenya. A mixture of Swahili and English made some form of clarity and familiarity with her customers. Its blended name made SportPesa a more home affair company than the foreign betting companies. It came with a form of identification.

To continue having great command into the Kenyan market, SportPesa would in later years enter into various sponsorship deals. They utilized each and every opportunity that they got.

SportPesa and Sport Sponsorship

With her immense growth in the country, came along it the urge to have more command of the market. To sustain their household name, SportPesa looked for a way that they were going to hold their loyal customers captive. The company, therefore, entered into various sponsorship deals. From Kenya to Tanzania, South Africa, Spain, Ethiopia and the United Kingdom, they came and conquered. No longer, visitors, they worked in improving their image and to affirm their presence. They were going nowhere apart from staying into the industry.  They utilized each and every opportunity in the industry.

As Gor Mahia and Betway were still in disagreement over sponsorship deals, SportPesa came through the way. SportPesa would move in swiftly to sponsor Gor Mahia FC. Later on, in a swift move, they captured AFC Leopards and sponsored them. Sponsoring the two teams denied Betway a chance to have their logo on Gor Mahia jersey. It marked the start of great sponsorship deals in Kenyan history. Sponsoring Gor Mahia helped in opening more doors for sponsorships in the country. The betting firm made in the smartest moves that baffled many in the sports industry. They moved in to sponsor Gor Mahia’s archrivals AFC Leopards in a similar move. Later on, the company managed to sin various deals with various teams and federation in the country.

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Before their forced exit, SportPesa had signed various sponsorship deals. They managed to have deals with the KRU, FKF and Football Kenya Federation, Kenya Boxing Federation. Kenya Sevens national teams, Harambee Stars and Harambee Starlets donned their jerseys.

Betting Jackpots

To continue stamping their authority over their loyal fans and Kenya’s sports industry, the betting giants introduced jackpots. One, therefore, had to predict a group of matches correctly to win the jackpot. The constant eight million Kenya shillings jackpot lured many people into using the company to place their bets. It, therefore, led to tremendous growth in 2015. Paul Wainanina became the first winner of the jackpot. He was lucky to win 8.9 million shillings in the jackpot. Its success in attracting people led to the introduction of a new jackpot. They would later on introduce Mega Jackpot was. The Mega Jackpot always stood at 100million and above.

Both jackpots increased from time to time mostly on weekly basis. The two jackpots increased from time to time. The number of gamblers who tried out their luck had risen high as a result of an increased betting culture. The first winner of the Mega Jackpot was Samuel Abisai. Abisai managed to win a total sum of 221 million Kenya Shillings. This was after he successfully predicted all the matches lined up in the Mega Jackpot.

Competition

The success of SportPesa in the Kenyan market led to increased competition in Kenya’s betting industry. Its name grew beyond the borders of Kenya. The company focused on doing major investments across the world. Its presence in the country led meant that betting can work in Kenya. Many companies rose though that. Individuals, companies, businessmen, politicians and every other person all of a sudden became investors in the industry.

Kenya all of a sudden became home to mushrooming betting companies. Companies such as Odibets, Cheza Cash and Betika among other betting companies came into place. Many people, therefore, had various platforms that they were able to place their bets.

Tax compliance

Thriving in a totally unregulated industry, SportPesa just like other betting companies managed to reap benefits. Government had to introce laws to govern the betting industry. Some form of regulation was highly needed. Tax regulations among other regulation were thereafter introduced through legislation. The by-laws passed by the Assembly introduced the tax rates that the companies were expected to meet. The betting companies were expected to pay 20% Withholding Tax on all the winning bets placed in their websites among other tax obligations. That, coupled with other regulations, made SportPesa to finally suspend their operation in Kenya on the 28 day of September 2019.

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Factors that led to the heavy tax laws were necessitated by the fact that the betting firms were leading to other vices. To start with, the rate of betting addiction had grown exponentially among the Kenyan youths. With the betting addiction came the increase of crime, suicide and laziness among the youths who had switched their lives to betting as a way of life. The greatest concern of the government was however in the remitting of taxes from the leading sport betting companies in the country. They were numerously accused by the government for exercising tax evasions habits. From accusations of tax evasions, the only remaining option was now to shut down their services till the companies complied to what was expected of them.

All weren’t bad just before Dr Fred Matiang’I spoilt the soup. After declaring that the company was a non-tax complaint, it had to cease its operation. It went down. Battles in court thereafter started with the government too adamant in having the company back in operation. The fight however proceeded. There however lies some hope.

International sports sponsorship

Having conquered the Kenyan market, SportPesa went out and made a name to themselves and their loyalists. They signed very lucrative deals that spread from across the world and those that made them be among the leading sports betting firm in Africa.

As per the time that the country was shutting down its operations in Kenya, SportPesa had a presence in at least four major countries. From Kenya where their originality traces, the betting firm has a great presence in Tanzania, South Africa, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom and now Uganda as the new entrants.

In Tanzania, SportPesa has sponsorship deals with Tanzanian giants Simba SC, Young Africans SC and Singinda FC with Simba and Young Africans enjoying a five-year sponsorship.

In South Africa, SportPesa has sponsorship deals with Cape Town FC which plays in South Africa’s Premier Soccer League. Apart from the sponsorships in Africa, SportPesa has a great partnership with Hull City, Arsenal and Southampton FC in the United Kingdom. Their sponsorship deal with Everton, however, ended in the 2019/2020 season.

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There exploits in the sporting world has earned them a name. in 2016 just two years after their formation, the betting giant managed to win African Sponsorship Award at the Discovery Sports Industry Awards (DSIA). In 2017, SportPesa was recognized as a Superbrand placed 13th in the ranking of the best companies in Kenya.

Comeback dreadlock

If there has been the greatest setback of the giant betting firm then the matter is on how to make a comeback. In their absence, many gamblers miss the company. Each and every day, they miss the services of the company, they miss seeing the company posting various odds for staking. Some perhaps have moved on to other betting companies while some, however, are between a rock and a hard and a hard place. They hope that their wishes and hopes will one day be fulfilled by having the giant company back in Kenya. SportPesa on their part, have tried the best that they can.

In their absence, we have seen a number of betting companies coming in place. We today have new babies such as Bet Safe and Bet King in place which they will have to fight for the control of the local betting industry.

In their latest attempt to make a comeback, the company recorded one of their long strings of blows. On Saturday, 31 October 2020, Betting Control and Licensing Board blocked Milestone Games Limited a chance to use SportPesa as their trademark.

Last week, the taxman Kenya Revenue Authority and BCLB had given the company a green light. The two bodies had allowed the company to resume their services after complying to set guidelines. The latest bone of contention came in as a result of a court case filed by Pevans East Africa Limited who owns the SportPesa trademark thereby baring any company from using the name. BCLB through a communication to the company started clearly the owners of the ‘SportPesa’ brand. SportPesa is a brand name of Pevans East Africa. Milestone is currently allowed to operate their activities as “Milestone Bets” which is their brand name. Such hindrances popping up from time to time means that the company might lose their loyalists as well as lose their market share which they command. A change in the trademark name will also more likely create a negative impact on the company globally.

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