Lack of vision exposes Kenya’s soccer to the shockwaves of SuperSport’s exit

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BY DAVID ONJILI

The Freemasons is considered to be a secret society by many yet those in the society say it is an open society shrouded in secrecy in the eyes of outsiders. I couldn’t find a more apt definition to talk about Kenyan Football management than this, the secrecy with which contracts are entered, the exploitation that is later experienced has for a long time been the very defining attribute of our local game. No matter whom you talk to, it is always scanty information that you will get on such matters as the football stakeholders and cartels’ love to thrive on this secrecy to avoid accountability

Thus, the unceremonious exit of South African based sports broadcaster, SuperSport from broadcasting live Kenyan Premier League football matches came as no surprise when nobody in the top echelons of Kenyan Football management could come out clearly and state the facts and give figures of the sponsorship deal between SuperSport and the Kenya Premier League Limited, the company mandated to run the top tier local football league. While the FKF president Mr Mwendwa tried to mediate on the matter, SuperSport stuck to her position and moved out, this was confirmed when her close to 200 staff based in Nairobi all received termination letters and the Outside Broadcasting (OB) vans were all moved to Zambia.

The signs were already here that all was not well, KWESE Sports was able to poach Chico Lawi a seasoned football analyst and some of their TV shows like PLAYBACK, which aired every Monday stopped.

History of televised football matches

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) started television broadcast in 1936 but it was one year later in 1934 that the first ever televised football game was witnessed. It was a specially organized football friendly between Arsenal Football Club and their Reserves at the famous Highbury grounds on September 16 1937, which was followed by the first international game to be televised pitting England and Scotland on April 9 1937. Later that month the first ever FA Cup game to be televised was between Preston North End and Huddersfield Town on April 30 1937.

Corporate structure of Kenyan football

Football Kenya Federation (FKF) was founded in 2011 and the first president was Mr Sam Nyamweya, It is a body that is mandated by FIFA, CAF and CECAFA to organize the Kenya Premier League, the Kenya Women’s Premier League, the FKF Division One and looking into the affairs of both the women and men’s national football teams. Mr Mwendwa, the current president, was elected in 2016.

Due to constant wrangling between the then football governing administration and the National Football League, football clubs decided to form an independent company that would run its activities and thus in 2003, the Kenya Premier League was formed and registered as a limited liability company and whose ownership was to be from the then 16 participating teams in the league and it was to be affiliated to Kenya Football Federation. KPL currently runs an 18-team league and this was given as one of the reasons why SuperSport pulled out. It is fully owned and managed by the 18 teams that feature in the league with each team being a shareholder and having voting rights just like FKF have in the KPL board of directors. The Kenya Football Coaches Association and the Kenya Football Referees Association are the non-voting members of this board.

Benefits of televised football
While debate has raged on whether televised football leads to a decline in stadium attendance by fans, data on the subject has been very intriguing. Most soccer clubs heavily rely on gate collections as their main source of revenue. In Europe, clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid attract close to 60,000 fans every other week that they have matches at their grounds. While those numbers are high, the same cannot be said about leagues in other countries like Scotland and even Africa. South Africa for example often fails to fill even quarter of their world class stadia built during the first World Cup ever on African soil in their domestic league matches.

When SuperSport entered the Kenyan television broadcast, East Africa Breweries Limited was sponsoring the league. Money was scarce and clubs were responsible for paying match officials, this was an unfair preposition as ‘bigger clubs’ AFC Leopards, Gor Mahia and even Tusker FC were rumoured to have the ability to offer more cash to match officials and this would influence games in their favour.

With increased sponsorship, SuperSport helped to professionalize the league. Clubs got enough cash to pay their players salaries in time. Stories of teams failing to honour league games because they could not afford to travel became an almost forgotten story and great of all, many clubs started getting shirt sponsorship deals e.g. Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards got betting firm Sportpesa as their sponsors, Mathare United attracted Britam.

The TV coverage was giving the local game and players exposure, yet a deep look reveals that KPL did rest on its laurels. They did not package the league in a manner to attract other sponsors too. When AFC Leopards started partnering with pay TV channel Zuku, they were threatened and the deal that was to bring the club revenue was stopped. The secrecy in the deals made it difficult for clubs to engage with other willing sponsors of the league and the recent exit of SuperSport has laid bare the incompetence and non visionary leadership of Mr Jack Oguda at KPL.

Television coverage, fans match attendance fears and lessons from Europe
The Barclays Premier League (BPL) remains the benchmark when it comes to television and football rights. BPL is the most  watched football league in the world.  It is broadcast in 212 territories to 643 million people and potentially has a viewership of 4.7 billion. Due to the need for professionalism, the BPL has a production arm called Premier League Productions that is responsible for producing content to its international partners. It is such visionary thinking that cannot be attributed to KPL, in fact the rights to games since SuperSport came in cannot be ascertained to belong to which party, the KPL or SuperSport and this deprives football archives the needed clips for future use.

With increasing television viewership, there have been concerns that match day attendance would go down yet research on the matter in countries like Scotland, Spain, Italy, Germany and England have come up with findings that television coverage has not significantly negatively affected match attendance. In England an interesting measure has been taken to mitigate on this.

The 3pm black out and kick off times
BPL games have specific times they air to make sure all the 20 participating teams each get several spots on live television. These times can never be altered as it will breach the intended 3pm black out of games.
Saturday Kick off is 12.30pm and 5.30pm
Sunday Kick off is 1.30pm and 4pm
Mondays and Fridays’ kick off is 8pm
(NB Time is British time, which is 3 hours ahead of Kenya)

A team that plays in the Europa League like Manchester United this season will play on Sunday at 12 pm or 2.15 pm or 4.30 pm buT never at 3 pm

This 3pm black out was fronted in 1960 by Burnley FC Chairman Bob Lord, his reasoning being that televising games at 3pm would deny clubs gate revenue because fans would stay at home to watch if their games are televised and thus there can never be a football game in the UK between 2.45 pm and 5.1.5pm during this 3pm black out.
To avoid this blackout, the final games of the BPL are played on Sunday
In case it is a La Liga game that is taking place during this 3pm black out, Sky will not air the 1st 15 minutes of the game although countries like Germany, Italy and even Spain do not have this 3 pm black out rule

In Kenya, SuperSport were blamed by various football stake holders when they tried to move forward a Gor Mahia game in Kisumu to 2pm. While they never gave good or convincing reasons, their move made sense to those who understand the nitty-gritty of football broadcast.

While it is easy to blame SuperSport for exiting the Kenyan market, I honestly think it is the lack of vision at KPL that is to blame. The local football league has never been packaged to attract sponsors. Hooliganism and destruction of property during games have led to a negative image and sponsors have kept distance. KPL must pull up its socks and see football as a business with potential to rake in billions.

The Zambian Premier League is a perfect example, SuperSport did not just move their outside broadcasting vans there, they have even started a radio show just to popularize their game. This shows that something was amiss, and indeed is an indictment on the management of the Kenya Premier