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Innovate or bust as Zim football makes comeback

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JUST when you think you have seen it all, from a modest experience of 17 years on the sports beat, football always makes you think again!

I discovered a completely different world in 2018 when, three years after the noble profession had dealt me a hard blow, I found myself working in the internal creative agency of a betting company, one of the biggest names in Zimbabwe’s bookie industry. 

Although the position was gladly accepted and much needed at the time, I was a bit nervous in the beginning because I did not know what the job entailed.

The gambling bug has not personally caught up with me yet. It will probably never do at this late stage. So, what if I was required to be well-versed with the intricacies of sports betting?

The answer came with some relief, pleasantly finding out that my job was in fact a simple one: help the creative team with copywriting, interview punters, especially the “big winners” as they call them in the studio, and generate promotional content for different media platforms of the company. 

It is a pretty relaxed work environment, an enriching one as well because you get to learn new things from working closely with some of the best creative minds the country has to offer. 

For me, there was also the fun on the road, travelling to all corners of the country – accompanied by a videographer and photographer – to document stories of the big-winners, football being the most popular choice with the punters.

It was on these several trips that I got some ideas about what makes a gambler tick. 

Some of the stories we heard ranged between mind-blowing and bizarre – as punter after another spoke of how they placed their bets, the matches involved, hitting the jackpot with multiple options at one go, and explaining how they got it right to win amounts totalling thousands of US dollars.

You hear of people, men and women, dreaming numbers in their sleep and heading to the nearest betting shop in the morning, placing a bet using the same digits, and then getting a few thousand dollars richer by the time the next fixtures of Serie A or English Premiership games finish!

You speak to one lucky punter and they tell you an unbelievable story, some kind of unusual charm they possess, and you think he is a bit of an oddball. Then another one comes with an even more outlandish tale and you wonder if we even live on the same planet at all.

I suppose that is what football does to people across the world and too often we forget that this game is a global culture so much that apart from the footballers themselves, there are millions of ordinary folk whose passion for their sport, and diverse characters, make football a heartbeat of the world. 

From my experiences of working on betting patterns and observing habits, I picked an over-increasing appetitive for European football at the expense of the local game, and football in that part of the world will always be more attractive to African audiences because of the entertainment value and now the opportunity to earn a quick buck.

Gambling is a worldwide phenomenon, but I cannot speak of other African counties about how it may be having any effect over there.

In Zimbabwe, though, I fear more football fans could be driven away from the domestic league and the lengthy forced break due to Covid-19 might have sounded the death knell.

Zimbabwean domestic football returns to the calendar this week, quite a relief to all who still care about the game in this country.

But with the growing threat to viewership – the national broadcaster has not even been bothered – the PSL has to innovate or die. 

Worse, it could be a while before fans are allowed back into stadiums. Even if they want.

With no gate revenue and low spectator interest, the PSL has to package its product attractively for new players in the broadcasting industry to take interest in a win-win deal.

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