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And in 2012....
The 2012 season started with the new office running Football Kenya Federation after years of bickering and court proceedings finally gave way to a compromise agreement. The warring factions of Football Kenya Limited and Kenya Football Federation each contested the elections with other favoured contenders.Sam Nyamweya and his retinue started by stating they would not interfere with the Kenya Premier League, more out of fear of losing out TV rights and sponsorship from SuperSport than any good intentions.
With that KPL CEO Jaco Oguda and Co. set about to look for corporate sponsorship as well as ensuring that clubs in the league maintained a certain level of professionalism. Up until this season, the league had not secured a title corporate sponsor making operations at the KPL offices and wider mandate a challenging task. Interestingly many clubs in the league have managed to attract big money with the likes of AFC Leopards, Gor Mahia, Sofapaka and Thika United among others getting 3-5 year commitments from Kenyan corporate firms. And by a stroke of luck the former big teams who have yet to win the revamped KPL have performed fairly well with both AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia fighting to the last match hoping to be crowned winners. Reigning champs Tusker FC have also an outside chance of picking the silverware again dependent on the top 2 teams faltering.
SuperSport's influence and other clubs' rise
With these clubs along with mid-level teams such as Thika United, Sony Sugar, Chemelil Sugar making fairly good performances, the media sponsors SuperSport have ensured that the wider audience not able to attend the games in the various stadia get a snippet of the action - Remember SuperSport have made the biggest investment into the KPL through securing exclusive media rights. The SuperSport honchos signed an initial 3-year contract in 2008, before extending it to 5 years in 2010 to end in 2015.
In its first year of coverage, SuperSport screened 22 games which has risen by 300% to 90 games shown on SuperSport including a channel launched in 2011 specifically targeted to the region, SS9 EA. In addition to this local media personnel have been trained on live coverage, camera, web among other technical aspects of the trade.
Back to the league, in its 9 years since 2003, the Premier League has seen different teams emerge as new kids on the block with Ulinzi FC ( largely associated with Kenya's Defense Forces) win the title 4 times (from 2003-5 and 2010), Tusker FC 2 times (2007 and 2011), Sony Sugar in 2006 and Sofapaka 2009. This has helped the League get wider appeal with each of these clubs getting its own followers. Still these clubs have not attracted the number of fans that traditional teams have seen for their games but it's a work in progress.
Sell your Soul
In the 2012 season, finally the League did secure title sponsorship with Tusker, EABL's flagship brand with a 3-year contract worth KSh. 170 million. Though widely celebrated across the country, its our belief that the KPL officials sold themselves cheap in the rush to obtaining the deal. Our thinking is informed by the fact that there were other suitors willing to associate with the game both in the drink brands and a few telcos whose balance sheets would only spot a slight blip. Again, the KPL officials are still learning the ropes of relating and associating with the corporate types in the country who still view sport as a recreational activity.
Another deal signed in the 2012 season, saw Puma secure the deal for supplying footballs to the clubs in the league. The deal is worth KSh.10 million though no real monetary value is attached to the deal, yet again raising concern of who negotiates these deals for KPL.
By now, those charged with seeking sponsorship and long-term deals for the League should ensure they argue their case and seek better deals for the game. They should also see even if the deals do not fully come with monetary benefits, the KPL secures some form of commitment from corporate firms that will see investment in the game.
And as the 2012 season comes to a close, there are lots of areas that need to be worked on. These include the following;
Club management vis-a-vis KPL Agenda
Many clubs in the KPL are still run by officials who's agenda is not entirely in the interest of the club or game. There are also many charlatans in town seeking to run clubs while they can't run a household to save their souls. In times to come, KPL should ensure that clubs adhere to a certain code of ethics when it comes to management and financial aspects. It will be in the best interests that a club's promotion to the top flight comes with a certain sense of responsibility and accountability. Oh by the way, KPL books for the last 3 years should also in the public domain for those in the game to know what and how the League is run.
Security and Discipline
This is still a sticking point in many league games. This is especially the case for the big games among traditional foes. Though KPL puts the liability and responsibility on the clubs, it ought to wield wider influence and consult with security experts on how to manage crowds and game situations. The Disciplinary Committee should also come down heavily on any club or fans who display intolerance and commit repeat offences relating to crowd trouble and harassment of fans. This will make it attractive for the uninitiated fans and also traditional ones who are yet to step back in stadia to make that move. They should also vet security apparatus who's personnel at times work in cahoots with the fans to either smuggle in illegal stuff or use fake tickets to enter various venues.
The same should be reciprocated by players on the pitch. Many a times we have seen footballers question the decisions made by the referees and some even result to physically abusing the officials. These incidences should become a rarity if KPL thoroughly and regularly trains the centre field officials along with club representatives.
Talking of venues, though it's not KPL's main concern to build infrastructure, they should impress upon local and regional authorities to make invest more in better infrastructure in the stadia, parking lots, training grounds and youth centres. In the upcoming system of county governance, those that seek to engage the youth and related activities will have a lead in attracting viable investments. We have seen many a housing projects come up with golfing estates, but it sure would also help if they had training grounds for football and other outdoor games. The same would be great for youth centres.
Financial and Legal Expertise
Though the KPL has officials who are experts in these fields, they need to engage more hands in both departments for the League to be able to develop strong and stringent mechanisms for clubs and those with the interest of the game to operate. Sponsorship deals secured on the cheap should become last resort not options explored and hastily signed. There also need to be consultations with those in the professions to provide training in sports finance and sports law.
Club Youth system
Famous clubs have made it a priority to invest in their youth development programs. It should be of urgency since many clubs are starting to attract talent from lower rung clubs but the reservoirs are not enough. The system will not only ensure continuity for the clubs but also see former and retiring footballers engaged in their favoured club activities instead of wasting away in destitution, drug abuse and alcoholism. It has worked in developed leagues such as Spain, Germany, Holland and now England. Investing in the club's youth will also see a better national team from the under 12 all the way to the senior side for Harambee Stars.
And this is looking forward to a better league in 2013 and coming years...and raise a glass to the winners of the 2012 season !