29 May 2022

Rangashala rebrand

Hard to believe that it's been 25 years that I've been involved in Nepali sports - more specifically football in the country. It all started in 1997, right after the 1st SAFF Cup, when I launched the Nepal Football Homepage, perhaps the first sports specific Nepali website. 

Since launching the website, which I closed down in the mid-2000s to focus on other initiatives, I've been involved in Nepali football in different capacities, amongst them: organizing grassroots programs, running a club, writing a sports column in a national newspaper and donating resources to different projects.

New branding for the Rangashala platform
In 2009, right after I left a role at the Asian Football Confederation to co-found a sports tech startup, I launched a blog focusing on Nepali sports topics that I titled Rangashala, which colloquially means 'stadium' in Nepali. In the first few years I ran the blog, I published close to 300 posts.  Recently though, I've hardly touched the platform, mainly as there wasn't really anything original to write about. What I wrote in 2009 still held relevance a decade later. Furthermore, with the proliferation of social media, it was easier to just give my opinions in 140 or 280 characters than to write a 1000 word post to the very niche crowd that read my blog.

In the last 12 months, primarily due to the launch of the Nepal Super League - which really helped to renew my interest in Nepali football, I've been posting consistently on my Facebook Page about Nepali sports. As the algorithms for Facebook Pages are pathetic and it is hard to get any decent reach (I don't like to post from my personal Facebook account as most of my friends are schoolmates and relatives who have little interest in Nepali sports), I went on to create a WhatsApp group where I repost my Facebook Page posts and other extra content so that keen followers don't miss anything.

While adding members to my WhatsApp group upon request, I was quite taken aback at how many people that reached out to me specifically mentioned being fans of Rangashala. It was as though Rangashala itself was a brand, even though surely they were referring to my posts on the blog. 

The timing of this revelation was perfect, as lately I have been considering how I could better get visibility for some of the many projects I am involved in. I have never felt comfortable highlighting my own name, so using a proxy brand like Rangashala would be ideal. For example, when I donate uniforms to a youth club they can just print the Rangashala logo on the kits as a sponsor. Certainly, that would be much more humble and pragmatic than having my name spelled out or even worse my photo printed on a jersey!  

I'm also looking forward to organizing a few sports business & development events and creating a community of aspiring Nepali sports managers for which Rangashala would be a fitting umbrella brand to put both these initiatives under.

Convinced of this concept, I hired a Nepali graphic artist to design the Rangashala logo and the artwork for the Rangashala website and Facebook Page. You can see the results for yourself. I personally am thrilled with the results. 

10 April 2022

There are no secrets in Nepali football

The other day I was on a very long call with a Nepali football official - let's call him Mr. X. He was going on about how deeply he cared about football and that he was one of the few "nishwartha" (selfless) people involved in the local game. Mr. X claimed he was a giver and not a taker and only had the best interests of Nepali football in his heart. He went on to talk about his decades service to football and listed a litany of his accomplishments - which frankly was not that impressive.

A few hours later I was on another call, this time with a local sports equipment store. I had ordered a bunch of footballs for an academy I am supporting.  I asked the sports equipment store owner for a discount on my purchase and he informed me that he always quotes me the very best rate, because unlike other football officials I don't ask for commission on my purchases. He then went on to give me an example of how one football official keeps asking him for very high margins on kickbacks and commissions thus he had no choice but to inflate his prices by almost 30-40% to them.  The name of that official? You guessed it - it was Mr. X! 

The fact is there are no secrets in Nepali football. Ones movements, meetings, conversations and behaviors are all tracked. Not by the state - North Korea style, but by a very close-knit society where everyone knows everyone and people love to gossip. Whether at weddings and festivals or by hotel managers and store keepers, word gets around and it gets around fast. It therefore really astounds me when Nepali football officials try to paint a false picture of themselves. Who are they trying to fool? Their secrets are out there for all to easily discover.

When I was directing Machhindra FC back in 2013/14, I would sometimes personally go to the Kalimati vegetable market to pick-up ingredients for our team meals. Many other clubs and ANFA also frequented the same market and coincidentally the same stalls. One of the vegetable sellers once showed me a few of the duplicate receipts he was producing for the different football organizations. Let's just say Nepali football players were eating some very expensive meals.

02 June 2018

Regional cups sustaining Nepali football both nationally and locally

In the absence of top-level league competitions for the past three years, regional cup competitions such as the Nepalgunj Gold Cup have been crucial in sustaining Nepali football in this period.

Along with its sister tournaments in Pokhara, Dharan, Butwal, Biratnagar, Birtamod, Simara and elsewhere, the Nepalgunj Gold Cup is providing much needed matches and money to football stakeholders including national level players, coaches, referees and clubs whose livelihoods and operations have been severely jeopardized by the shutdown of league competitions.

The regional cups are also a major boon to local football. For fans - they bring celebrated clubs and players and high standard of matches, which are mostly concentrated in Kathmandu, to different corners of the country. For players - they provide a platform to compete against the top talents and clubs in the country. For administrators - it gives them experience in organizing tournaments and looking after the matches, logistics, sponsorship and marketing that come along with it.

Furthermore, if well run, the regional cups can raise quite a bit of revenue which ideally should be ploughed back into local football. For example, Sahara Club Pokharas impressive training centre was built on the profits of the Aaha! Gold Cup. Hopefully, the Nepalgunj Gold Cup will eventually create a similar legacy, but for now it is already playing a crucial role in supporting football at the national and local levels.

26 January 2018

Leave sports logos to the professionals

Yielding to highly negative backlash from fans and observers, less than 48 hours after historic English football side Leeds United launched their new club badge they scrapped it.

The irony here is that Leeds United actually claims to have consulted 10,000 people in developing the new badge. I don't doubt it for a moment and there is a valuable lesson here -  something as important as the club badge should be left to professionals and not crowd-sourced!

Having a bit of a sports logo fetish, I have seen this play out many times - where clubs leave badge ideas to their fans and ultimately end-up with a total disaster or if lucky something fairly average.

One of the worst examples of logos-gone-wild unfortunately happened to the club that I support - Aston Villa. In the late 2000's they developed their new badge based on a fan survey and the logo turned out to be a total mess. For example they asked something like if supporters preferred "Aston Villa", "Aston Villa FC", "Aston Villa Football Club" or "AVFC" on the club badge. The majority preferred some version of the unique club name but the vote was split three ways among the non-acronym options and AVFC ended up with the highest vote percentage at a mere 30% or so. Thus AVFC made its way onto the badge, an absolute tragedy as one of the most special characteristic of the club is its non traditional name. There are many United's and FC's, but only one Villa! is a popular cry among the club's faithful.

The acronym AVFC was just one of many defects of the crowd-sourced logo. Ask any competent graphic designer and they could identify another dozen flaws with the crest. It's one reason I have refused to purchase a Villa kit for nearly a decade.
The new Villa badge and the recently updated version (right)

A few years later Aston Villa spent GBP 80,000 to alter the faulty badge. It's still pretty poor. Hopefully the club management will do a proper update soon. (UPDATE:  Villa changed their crest in 2023)

On the other hand, despite early criticism from traditionalists, sports organizations like Juventus and Big Ten Conference developed new identities that were masterpieces through collaborations with leading design and branding firms Interbrand and Pentagram respectfully. Amazing the results you can achieve when you hire competence.

14 January 2018

Don't expect EPL T20 clone in football

Crowd at EPL finals at TU Ground. Photo courtesy of Udipt Singh Chhetry
By all accounts the Everest Premier League T20 tournament was a grand success. It saw good crowds, a strong stable of sponsors and formidable media interest. Moreover it had buzz. My Facebook timeline would be filled with posts from friends and acquaintances discussing the tournament. Even my buddies, who well know I am not a cricket aficionado, were texting me about the the ongoing action including  the peripheral "cricketainment", as event organizer Aamir Akhtar puts it, around the event.

For sports enthusiasts like myself, the EPL T20  showed that there is the capacity in Nepal to run a well marketed and fan friendly sports event. Hats off to the organizers.

So could we expect something similar in football perhaps?

At the local level tournaments such as the Aaha Gold Cup in Pokhara and the recent Khaptad Gold Cup in Dhangadhi do bring excitement to their localities, but the entertainment quotient is not quite up to par and these competitions lack national appeal. The onus to create something similar to the EPL T20 in football thus lies either with ANFA, the governing body of football in Nepal, or an entrepreneurial person or two from the private sector.

ANFA has failed to organize a top level league for the past 3 years, so certainly there is little hope in expecting them to do anything anytime soon. That then leaves the private sector.

Unfortunately, unlike its cricket brethren Cricket Association Nepal (CAN) that is dysfunctional, toothless, and currently suspended, ANFA is only dysfunctional. Toothless and suspended it is not and there lies the challenge.

Through its former president Ganesh Thapa, who essentially governs the national body by proxy and through family members embedded in the organization, ANFA maintains strong political links domestically which it continues to exploit to implement its nefarious modus operandi. For the past 25 years ANFA's M-O has essentially been to negatively disrupt any football initiatives that are not directly organized by itself. It is a case of "afoo pani nagarni, aroo lai pani garna nadini" (Not doing it yourself and not letting anyone else do it either).

A few of the bright spots in local football such as the proliferation of futsal courts is due its rapid rise blindsiding the football authorities or else futsal's growth may have also been derailed.

Ultimately, one can expect that any attempt to hire a ground, secure sponsors and develop media partnerships for an EPL T20 style football league being sabotaged by ANFA and its nexus, thus is the sad reality of football in Nepal.