BY ISAAC SWILA
When SuperSport, a South African group of TV channels owned by Multichoice and carried on the DStv satellite platform recently announced the termination of their contract with the Kenyan Premier League (KPL), shock and disbelief greeted the football industry. The contract had given the South African outfit exclusive rights to broadcast matches of the Kenyan top-tier and had been in existence since 2007.
After investing in the Kenyan league for ten years pumping in colossal sums of money, no one had foreseen their exit, not in the near future.
With SuperSports untimely departure, adverse financial effects will no doubt be felt on the nascent league, which had hitherto relied on grants from the pay TV for the last ten years.
In justifying their exit, the giant pay television cited “breach of contract” by their KPL partners. But if their recent moves in Africa are anything to go by, then the decision may have been guided by their commercial interests. In a brief statement, SuperSport’s legal advisor Phillip Seleke said they had withdrawn from the partnership because of a recent court ruling, which declared that KPL wasn’t the “bonafide owners” of the top flight football league.
“The situation became untenable and it put SuperSport at risk and therefore has no option but to terminate the contract. SuperSport will continue in its commitment to providing the best sports content in Africa via platforms with cutting-edge technology and on multiple devices,” the brief statement said. “You (KPL) warranted us contractually that the KPL is the only body recognized by Fifa to run, administer and be responsible for the administration of professional club football in Kenya, which warranty is directly contradicted by the relevant SDT (Sports and Disputes Tribunal) Ruling and the views of Fifa. You are accordingly in breach of our Licence agreement and we must unfortunately herewith terminate our contractual relationship,” he added.
Supersport’s exit come hot on the heels after closing shop in more lucrative markets such as Ghana and most recently, in the football-mad Nigeria, whose population is approximated to stand above 173.6 million according to a 2013 census.
In Kenya, it is believed that the massive drop in the number of Dstv subscribers who have found SuperSport too expensive could have driven the dwindling fortunes of the pay television.
By raising its premium bouquet rates to Sh10, 000, and with the tough economic situation currently biting, most of Kenya’s middle class households discarded their dishes. Add to the fact that the Kenyan league is nascent hence less attractive to the rest of the world then you understand what it means.
By closing shop in Kenya, SuperSport has not only left several households staring at tough financial times as it rendered over 200 employees jobless but was also forced to ferry its broadcast equipments to Zambia, which alongside South Africa, are the only markets in Africa where they still retain a strong foot print.
Their closing shop in most African countries could be construed to mean that the South African Company does not find the Africa leagues competitive enough. This is so because just two weeks ago they extended their contract with the English FA to continue broadcasting the English Premier League across Sub Sharan Africa until 2022.
In this deal, SuperSport will show all 380 Premier League matches per season on its linear television channels, as well as its online and mobile platforms.
“SuperSport is proud to have been a partner of the Premier League since its inception 25 years ago and we know our customers love this league.
“We’re delighted to continue this partnership for a further five years, as a sign of our commitment to continue to provide our loyal DStv and GOtv customers throughout the continent with the best sporting action from around the world,” Gideon Khobane, chief executive of SuperSport said after the extension of the deal.
The pay channel pumps Sh300 million annually to the Kenyan league and by terminating its contract, which was to run until 2021, the Kenyan league has lost approximately Sh1.2 billion in revenue.
Of the monies they give to KPL, 70% is channeled to the clubs, with each of the 16 top-tier clubs receiving an annual grant of Sh8 million, and the 30% goes to the secretariat.
Moreso, for some clubs, which have in the last two years operated on a shoestring budget owing to lack of shirt sponsors such as Sofapaka, and Nairobi City Stars (which has since been relegated to the National Super Leaguer), the grants from SuperSport were the only source of revenue.
As things stand, Sofapaka have been lucky to land a three- year shirt sponsorship deal valued at Sh50 million from gaming firm Betika but this is still a drop in the ocean compared to the costs involved in running a football club.
And with an expanded league of 18 teams of which three clubs – Zoo Kericho, Kakamega Homeboyz and Kariobangi Sharks lack shirt sponsors, things are bound to get murkier as paying players wages would prove an uphill task.
While acknowledging the tough task at hand, KPL CEO Jack Oguda opines that clubs will have to devise ways of raising additional revenue in order to stay afloat.
“It is a challenge both to clubs and the league. It means we have to readjust our budget and also means that the clubs have to work hard to get additional source of revenue,” Oguda said, adding that he does not share into SuperSport’s claim that it’s a contract breach which drove them out of the Kenyan market.
“In their letter they cited breach of contract…however, I also have question marks why they pulled out of Nigeria .It raises questions whether it could have been a business decision,” the KPL CEO said.
Apart from that, SuperSport’s move also puts at risk the lucrative five -year sponsorship deal between the KPL and gaming firm SportPesa estimated to be Sh500 million, which was entered into in 2015 making the latter the league’s title sponsors.
By sponsoring the league and popular clubs including Gor Mahia (Sh340m) and AFC Leopards (Sh260m), SportPesa had hoped to tap on the massive publicity offered to the three products whenever the matches are aired on television.
Though SportPesa are yet to openly comment on the matter, sources intimate that the giant betting firm is exploring ways of having the contract renegotiated as they stand to lose with the current state of affairs.
On this, Oguda says, “We have not heard any communication from SportPesa. We have sought a meeting on the away forward but they have not given us an indication that they will pull out. The ramifications mean that we reduce the grants and prizes but we are yet to do that as the financial committee is yet to sit down,” said Oguda.
Football Kenya Federation president Nick Mwendwa says that his body is doing all it can to ensure that contractual matters are negotiated properly and with the “right institutions” even as they look at possible remedies.
“It seems that SuperSport is not coming back so that is where we are. We now have to look at the rights issue of the league and how to handle it properly in future. It (the void) gives us an opportunity to relook at how we have done things before and how we do not in future.”
In order to aid the smooth run of the league, Mwendwa said, the federation has so far channeled Sh5 million to league body with a further Sh20m to be provided as part of the agreement with the KPL and the Sports Disputes Tribunal (SDT) – which saw the top-tier competition expanded from a 16 to an 18-team league.
Former player and AFC Leopards youth coach Boniface Ambani however bemoans the tough times it portends to the players.
“To me, it’s the players who will lose greatly because SuperSport has done a lot for Kenyan football. Through live coverage, players got exposure and attracted the eyes of foreign clubs. Our clubs will also suffer because a number of them survived on the grants.”
True to Ambani’s assertions, players like Eric Ouma ‘Marcelo’, Michael ‘Engineer’ Olunga, Aboud Omar among many others have in the recent past turned professional due to the foundation and platform offered by TV coverage.