IT was a big relief to the teams when Vodacom bounced back to sponsor the Premier League, offering 9bn/-package in a 3-year period from 2019 to 2021.
Still despite the renewed sponsorship, the Premier League has yet to regain some of the bright colours it neon-signed in the past two seasons when Tanzanian teams lured many foreign players from West Africa, Central Africa and Southern Africa apart from countless East Africans.
But the most annoying of all is a disgustingly poor attendance in the matches that don’t involve Simba or Young Africans. The arrival of Azam as among the associate sponsors has played a big role in league’s promotion as it is making good teams and players known globally, though not to the desired level.
The well-publicized Professional League of South Africa, arguably one of the best in Africa, give us good lesson that forces us do something in terms of package and promotion, being means to improve the audience in the country whose football has been a solely Simba-Young Africans affair.
It has been widely reported that TV deals and sponsorships from banks, telecommunication and engineering companies have been responsible for the 68m US Dollar as sponsorship package compared to only 3.9m US Dollar the Mainland Premier League has fetched from the cellular firm.
The results have been very rewarding to PSL because the broadcast deals contribute a high percentage of income, according to South Africa’s Premier League (PSL) chairman, Irvin Khoza. According to Khoza, PSL has reached the one billion rand mark (about 157bn/-) and that augurs well for the clubs as the monthly grants to them will increase next season.
The PSL runs a 30-round league, which the SuperSport channel screens throughout Africa, and the first prize increased 50 percent to 15 million rand for the 2019/2020 season. Although some leagues, notably those in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, produce a more internationally successful brand of football, still South African clubs top the financial table.
Some sides, like the 2016 CAF Champions League winners Mamelodi Sundowns, have the added advantage of rich South African owners. Added with the funding of billionaire Patrice Motsepe, Sundowns were able to buy stars not only from Africa but also South America, with two Uruguayans, a Brazilian and a Venezuelan on their books.
Through the promotion, South African League is attracting more spectators to fixtures, even in the matches that do not involve the big crowd-pullers such as Soweto sides Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates or Pretoria-based Sundowns.
As opposed to Tanzania when only Simba and Yanga draw big audience, the South African giants can draw crowds of up to 90, 000, even for a friendly match. The 3.9m US dollar sponsorship looks a peanut compared to the Premier Leagues of the highly-advanced North African states or South Africa.
North African countries have the Lion share of the Football leagues that make a lot of money on the continent. That is possibly why most of their finest players ply their trade back home.
Created in 1996, and arguably the youngest Premier League in Africa, PSL is among the five best leagues at the moment and the success are fruits of investments the country has made in football in the past decade.
Others like the Egyptian league is basically sponsored by telecommunication giant ETISALAT and has been active since its inception in 1948. Egyptian State broadcaster and other private media organs are fully engaged in marketing the country’s league.
The money harvested from AFCONS tittles has enabled the country’s League to grow meanwhile clubs like Al Ahly, Zamalek and Ismaily have greatly contributed to the growth of the local league especially through their performances on the continent. Third is Tunisia Professional League that keeps pulling attention.
Though a lot is not said on the sponsorship, the country’s level of infrastructural development has greatly impacted on the league’s emergence. Esperance de Tunis, Club Africain and Club sportif Sfaxien have contributed in one way or the other in the league, this especially thanks to continental performances.
Tanzania being in the same African football bandwagon, poor audience has been among the biggest challenges at the moment. From empty stadiums to declining interest in Africa’s own teams in favour of flashy European sides, there is a great deal of work to do to restore African football to the glory days of the past.
Two decades ago, thousands of football fans across the African continent flocked to stadiums to watch their local club sides in action, and league football thrived as Africa’s players sought to make their mark domestically before hopefully winning a contract to play in Europe.
It is very common to see whenever matches like Singida United vs JKT Tanzania or Ndanda vs Coastal Union hardly draw more than 500 spectators.
So, while Ahly, Zamalek, Esperance and Etoile du Sahel are still able to draw size-able crowds for domestic matches in North Africa, it is a different story across much of sub-Saharan Africa, where clubs battling to get fans into the stadiums.
Across the continent, the fans of Simba, Yanga in Tanzania or Gor Mahia in Kenya, Kampala City Council in Uganda, Mufulira Wanderers in Zambia and Rangers in Nigeria now put on Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool shirts and debate the league fortunes of these clubs rather than their own local giants.
The drift in passion is understandable at the moment when English, Spanish, German and Italian football is available on satellite TV through an easy access in bars and informal viewing centres where shrewd businessmen charge an entrance fee to watch Christian Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah or our own star Mbwana Samatta.
While African football has come of age, with the continent’s stars now household names in the international game, much of the players’ success can be attributed to their individual efforts to make it rather than to any deliberate effort by African football to develop the game.
While football in the rest of the world has advanced to new heights, with marketing and television fueling the rise of the game, much of African football remains stuck in a time warp. Again, North Africa leads the way, with Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria running leagues that are well sponsored and with revenues pouring in from domestic television companies.
South Africa’s league is ranked as seventh in the world in terms of sponsorship, with the deal between the Premier Soccer League, ABSA Bank, South African Breweries and broadcaster SuperSport raking in approximately $280m over a five-year period.
So, it is not all gloomy and doom for African football. As a result, African football is not led by the best candidates for the job but by those who have the means to disburse the largest amounts of cash.