Rwanda is doubling down on spending millions with Europe’s richest soccer clubs to promote tourism

The latest European soccer giant benefiting from Rwanda’s tourism promotion drive is French soccer club, Paris St. Germain (PSG).

Rwanda’s Development Board has agreed a sponsorship deal with the French club to promote its tourism industry on the kit of its women’s team as well through stadium branding. The three-year deal is valued between $9 million and $11 million, Reuters reports.

It’s the second major sponsorship deal Rwanda has signed with a top European soccer club. Last year it paid $39 million for its “Visit Rwanda” sleeve sponsorship with English Premier League side Arsenal last year. News of the Arsenal deal was met with widespread criticism from the development and policy community given the poverty levels in a country where per capita income is estimated at just $700.

Similar concerns will likely trail the latest deal with PSG, which is one of the wealthiest clubs in world soccer ever since it was taken over in 2011 by oil-rich state, Qatar. Since then the club has splashed out hundreds of millions of dollars in record-breaking transfer fees on some of the sports’ biggest stars, including Brazil’s Neymar.

The Rwanda Development Board, which inked the deal, has claimed the country’s strategy of multi-million dollar soccer sponsorship deals has paid off as it has already recouped over 100% in marketing benefits from its first year of the sponsorship with Arsenal. It said Rwanda saw a 5% increase in visitors from the UK during that period. Clare Akamanzi, chief executive of the Rwanda Development Board said in a statement the country invests part of its tourism revenues in “strategic collaborations,” like soccer sponsorship deals, based on an expected “positive effect” they have on the Rwanda’s perception globally.

Rwanda’s kit sponsorship deal is not the first of its kind in Africa. In 2016, Chad—one of the world’s poorest countries—chose to become the jersey sponsor of a French soccer club FC Metz, amid widespread local criticism. And according to Quartz estimates, Africa-focused brands also spend around $40 million annually on marketing deals with clubs in England’s Premier League, the most watched soccer league on the continent.

Long-term, Rwanda’s central goal is boosting its local tourism industry—its largest foreign revenue earner—as it aims to grow revenues to $800 million by 2024, from $438 million in 2017. While the country has positioned itself as a high-end conference and business destination, it also strongly relies on its wildlife attractions, specifically its mountain gorillas—one of the world’s most endangered species.

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