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KQ risks Sevens team branding rights after SportPesa’s Sh600m coup

Record loss-making airline Kenya Airways might be forced to give up the prime Kenya Rugby Sevens shirt branding rights after Kenya Rugby Union struck a major deal with sports betting company, SportPesa.

The deal worth Sh607 million, spanning a period of five years, was unveiled Wednesday afternoon at an event graced by national team players, rugby club officials and SportPesa representatives.

Under the deal, the betting company will become “headline partner” for the country’s rugby union governing body.

The partnership will also see the development of the national squads such as the Kenya 15s, U19s and women’s squad who did not have a definite sponsor. The three teams were surviving on coattails of the Kenya Sevens.

Asked if Kenya Airways will still be on the national sevens team jersey, KRU’s president Richard Omwela said that it is KQ’s responsibility to ensure that they remain on it.

“The contract with them states that if we get a better offer, we give them a notice to match the offer or pull out. As we speak they’re still our shirt sponsor but we’ve notified them of the new deal and if they can match SportPesa then we shall be glad to continue with the partnership,” he said.

FINANCIAL TURBULENCE

With current financial turbulence hitting the national carrier, pundits have predicted an end to a six year partnership between KRU and KQ. The initial partnership was launched in 2011 when KQ took over from Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic.

The initial two-year partnership was pegged at Sh290m that included salaries, performance bonuses and air tickets. It was later renewed in 2013 for a further two years but slashed to Sh112m per year.

The airline is currently in financial turmoil after reporting a Sh26.2 billion net loss Thursday for the year ending March, compared to the Sh25.7 billion loss posted the previous year.

The sevens team is one of the most sought after team locally. In April the team claimed Kenya’s maiden IRB Sevens Series crown by shocking overall leaders Fiji 30-7 in Singapore.

But KQ’s financial troubles led to the scaling down of the value of the sponsorship for the sevens rugby team.  The annual grant to the team was whittled down Sh36 million for the 2015/2016 season.

However, the airline increased air ticket allocation for the team from 190 tickets last season to 280 this season.

The new partnership between KRU and SportPesa has therefore eclipsed the current deal and only time will tell if KQ will fly off the prized jersey.