Business meets passion

At 18, sitting in London and finishing his A-levels, Adam Fine started an adventure, which has become a successful and exceptionally fast-growing business

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However, it wasn’t always like that. How can an 18-year-old who calls London home, start a business in South Africa and make it work?

By his own admittance, for two-and-a-half years, it failed. Back then, Fives Futbol was far from the company that now has 14 venues across South Africa, with five more expected by the culmination of 2018.

As a sport, 5-a-side football has grown around the globe at an exceptional speed. It has become popular among all ages, from kids starting out, to grown men playing their trade. Many of the largest clubs in Europe and South America persist with the notion that, until around the age of 16/17, this is how they play. It creates an environment where kids are more involved in the game with more opportunities to develop the basics of their game, before eventually moving to a full-size field.

The growth of the sport is also largely down to time and accessibility. The conventional 11-a-side game takes a lot more time and, especially at a community club level, is largely weather dependent. As Fine explains, they are also a professional company who are accountable to their clients, should things go wrong, unlike the amateur leagues, which are mostly poorly-run and disorganised. This is not solely a problem within our borders but, indeed, worldwide.

Our country might have 11 official languages but we have one thing in common—football. It is a language we all understand; it transcends race, religion and class. If 2010 taught us anything, it was that.

And 2010 is when Fine got his break too. Seeing how well five-a-side worked in the UK, he wanted to bring it to the shores of South Africa but his initial struggles are put down to the lack of life experience, and being in London didn’t help him logistically.

However, the 2010 FIFA World Cup came and riding that wave, he finally launched Fives Futbol in September 2010.

Growth

As Fives Futbol nears its 8th anniversary—but 7th with Fine in the country—in September this year, it is comfortably the leader of its industry. The growth has been amazing, something Fine puts down to “finding the correct strategic partners, excellent shareholders and a good management team, many of whom have been with the company since it’s inception.”

Fine continues, “Our growth is fairly exponential, the main focus for us now is to include the broader South Africa, which we’ve done to some extent, but by having the right property partners backing us, we can get even further afield.

“We are now going to Thohoyandou in Northern Limpopo where Flanagan and Gerard, alongside Vukile as landlords, have been immensely supportive. The challenge here is the distance from a central hub but we are confident of making it work and providing as good a product to the community as we do anywhere else.

“We’ve done similar projects in Hanover Park and now plan to open in Athlone too, where we are still generally charging R25 a player but as we go more rural, we are developing a pricing model around R10 per game. Effectively, we’re looking at ways to innovate to find a business model that works so that everyone can be included, and then using the corporate market to cross-subsidise those in a lower income bracket. “From an entrepreneurial point of view, it is very difficult—our vision was to dominate the industry and we are. We probably have about 50 000 people coming through our doors on a monthly basis, so I think in a year, we would like to have 100 000, which is attainable, considering our continuous growth.

“Our three-year vision is to go from the 20 venues we will have by the end of 2018, to 50 across South Africa and then, PanAfrica,” Fine explains.

But their growth has not, nor will it stop here. They have already laid out their first 7-a-side field in Durbanville, Cape Town to “test the market”.

While testing the market, Fine also realised that the area had many local football clubs with limited training fields, so this would create an alternative to those clubs, especially when the weather is poor. The pitches are all synthetic, thus, they remain unaffected by the weather.

While moving into Africa is a long-term goal for Fine, he admits that there is “plenty of meat on the bone in South Africa”, so when exactly that move will take place is anyone’s guess, however, he did manage to give away that Zambia looks like the best bet for the first move into Africa.

CSI

Moving this idea from the UK to South Africa was never going to simply be about replicating what had been done in the UK, or any other country, for that matter.

Our country is unique in terms of challenges and Fine realised this soon after starting Fives Futbol. But to his credit, he has not backed down from the challenge and, instead of simply catering to those who could afford high fees to make use of the fields, he has gone out and found ways that would allow communities to benefit from the initiatives.

Social impact has far-reaching effects, especially in our often crime-ridden communities where kids have little alternative to gangsterism and other forms of crime or violence.

Sport is a way of reaching the youth of today. Where many overcrowded schools are failing to get through to the kids, football is often their outlet, but what happens when that outlet is not available? They might turn to the abovementioned activities, mostly.

However, Fives Futbol is reaching into these communities and offering kids of all ages the opportunity, within a supervised area, to play the game they so dearly love. However, it is not only the kids who benefit from these initiatives.

“I think what we’ve learnt is that our biggest impact is actually in terms of job creation, because you’ve got a generation lacking education and communities who have been left behind, and those individuals don’t have formal qualifications. It’s very difficult in an economy that’s not firing on all cylinders to find work in general, and youth unemployment is statistically at 50% or 45%, so how can you create jobs for someone that wasn’t afforded the right opportunities, doesn’t come from a great background and hasn’t got the right qualifications?

“Well, we can because we’re in the sport of his passion, he loves football. He will know every Manchester United or Kaizer Chiefs player for instance, he will be hungry to be a coach, whether it’s coaching a youngster or refereeing adults, and we can train him over a period of time. I think the thing we’re most proud of as we drive towards success as a business, is probably the job creation—we’re now employing an average of about 50 full-time staff and 100 part-time staff,” says Fine.

However, beyond all this, Fine says he is most proud of the CSI project they run by themselves—their LSEN League (learners with special education needs), which runs for these special 19 schools around the Cape Flats and surrounding townships to play their formal league at Fives’ Lansdowne venue.

“These learners have a high ratio to teachers and, therefore, attention per student is limited, compounding their educational struggle. Therefore, they require an outlet physically to build self-esteem, which is what we offer them. Furthermore, this can enable these hard-working teachers to use the football as an incentive to encourage better behaviour from the kids.

“This is the third year of this programme and the project is funded by ISPS Handa Foundation and the Graham Beck Foundation, which has proven very successful,” explains Fine.

Other than that, Fine opens the venues up to fundraising events and lower costs for NGOs, and many venues allow kids in at better rates during these off-peak times too. Similarly, they sponsor kids in their Fives Soccer School from disadvantaged backgrounds to allow opportunities for social cohesion with those from different backgrounds playing the beautiful game together.

Partnerships

On the business side of things, as mentioned before, key strategic partnerships have played an instrumental role in the success of Fives Futbol. Fine explains that, being a young entrepreneur, he often just wants to get fields up in more and more locations but that this is where balance is required.

His long-standing business partner, Paul Linde, is the one who brings that balance by urging Fine not to grow too fast.

The most important area for Fine to get these partnerships right is with the land. Therefore, property partners are key.

For the last five years, Linde has travelled the country in search of land to lease in order to create more Fives Futbol venues but as he explains, one of their biggest challenges is finding land at a reasonable rate and in good areas.

“What people often see is the success but they don’t see the hours upon hours of driving from meeting to meeting when it doesn’t quite fit, and the landlord doesn’t agree to the terms or costings have not worked,” says Fine.

Fine is quick to point out that there has been no overnight success but that they have great sponsor partners in Klipdrift, Totalsports, Adidas, Debonairs Pizza, Lucky Star and Betway as the new betting partner. And perhaps this is the time for more organisations to start looking at Futbol Five’s initiatives and getting involved—there is no better way to reach the people than through the global game itself.

While not required, Fine has urged the government to get involved in terms of providing land. It is an easy way to reach the youth, give them something they love more than anything else and create jobs for communities around the country.

“The government could be doing exactly what the property companies are doing, fund us, let us manage it, free play at certain hours, charge a nominal fee for the community and create jobs. Be a neighbour, be a catalyst,” says Fine.

Conclusion

Fine and Linde are both business people, they are just fortunate that their business happened to go hand-in-hand with their passion. But their passion is also the passion of about 40+ million others and they are taking the beautiful game to them with world-class facilities.

“I think it’s just an indication of the power or the capacity that sport has to uplift the general communities—you have sport and music as passion points. We have already mentioned employment, but we have also partnered with different NGOs to inspire kids to do things that will benefit them too.

“In Africa, football is not a religion but it is everything a religion should be,” concludes Fine. 

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