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Ivory Coast Businesses Jump on Football Bandwagon

Ivory Coast's football team is warming up for its first World Cup, and some Ivorian businesses are already profiting. Ivory Coast is proving it is still a powerful market, despite its current economic difficulties.

Televisions blare out commercials for Orange, the international telecommunications company, ahead of football friendlies, the news, or just about any program in Ivory Coast. Orange is the national team's official sponsor, and has invested heavily in a marketing campaign surrounding the team's football success.

Billboards around the commercial capital, Abidjan, display pictures of three top players, Kolo Touré, Arouna Dindane and Didier Drogba. The players are also pictured on prepaid cards for mobile phones, and the cards feature numbers, which like a lottery, could win the card owner a car, or a trip to Europe.

Orange's deputy director-general in Ivory Coast, Mamadou Bamba, says the World Cup, being held this year in Germany, is a unique opportunity in Ivory Coast to promote the company's product.

He says, 2006 is the year of football here. He says, for a lot of people, this has become something that has taken over their life completely. He says, every footballer dreams of playing at a World Cup. And likewise, he says, every Ivorian dreams of going to the World Cup. And, he says, the company brings that dream closer to its clients, referring to the contest to win a trip to Europe.

Identifying the national team, the Elephants, as a commercial vehicle, Orange signed the sponsorship deal with the Ivorian football federation a month after the team qualified for the World Cup.

Bamba tells VOA the sponsorship has already boosted sales. He says, Ivorians have more and more confidence in Orange. Just like, he says, they have more and more confidence in the Elephants and the football federation.

Orange has invested $60 million in Ivory Coast to expand its mobile phone network coverage, despite the country being divided since rebels took control of the north in 2002.

Orange may have the official sponsorship rights, but many Ivorian companies are trying to exploit football euphoria.

Textile printer Ivtex has organized a fashion show for the fabrics it designed specially for the World Cup.

Prestigious guests, including Prime Minister Charles Banny and the football federation's president, Jacques Anouma, are present.

Image Espace is a promotion company, which the football federation has charged with turning the World Cup into a profitable venture.

Its commercial director, Eric Adigo, says Ivorians are prepared to spend on football accessories.

He says, football is a powerful emotive motivator. People identify with the national team, he says, and that is why they will identify with products that seem to support the team. He says, Ivorians try to prove that they are genuine supporters by buying products associated with the name of the Elephants.

Adigo says the war is definitely an economic problem, but sales are still very high. He says, it is just that prices have to be set a bit lower now, so people can afford to buy.