What you need to know:
- An entire decade has passed since the league organisers signed a Sh170 million title sponsorship deal with East Africa Breweries to rename the league to Tusker Premier League
- Instead, it has been 11 years of deep cuts and blundering reforms that have come in the shape of poor management and ego fights
- Where the national league once had a title, broadcast and kit and ball sponsor (umbro), elite local players now play in obscurity with few matches available to fans, using kits from all manner of cheap suppliers, and for no prize money
How does a great establishment die? In the same two stages as Ernest Hemingway believed people went bankrupt – gradually, then suddenly. The organisation under focus here is the topflight league, formerly the formerly the Tusker Premier League, formerly the SportPesa Premier league, formerly the BetKing Premier League, now the FKF Premier League. See where I am going? No? Okay, stay with me.
An entire decade has passed since the league organisers signed a Sh170 million title sponsorship deal with East Africa Breweries to rename the league to Tusker Premier League.
Kenyan football has never seen that kind of money ever again. Instead, it has been 11 years of deep cuts and blundering reforms that have come in the shape of poor management and ego fights. The result? Where the national league once had a title, broadcast and kit and ball sponsor (umbro), elite local players now play in obscurity with few matches available to fans, using kits from all manner of cheap suppliers, and for no prize money.
Yet look how live streaming has magically transformed this year’s Afcon. So many are wondering why there's a sudden silence on the English Premier League (EPL) and an increased attention on the Afcon. Just yesterday, a diehard Chelsea supporter told me that he has just realised he can survive without the EPL. That is an elaborate confirmation that we watch the EPL and talk a lot about it simply because it is what we are fed across all media stations. Since the Afcon began on January 13, I haven’t watched a single EPL match, and the reason is simple. Afcon is (finally!) easily accessible. The results are visible to anyone with functional eyes.
A legitimate argument can be made that local league matches can also be accessed via Azam, but say that to the person seated next to you and tell me whether they won’t arch their eyebrows and ask what Azam is. Even if we overlook the challenges with accessibility, the Tanzanian broadcasters are doing nothing near enough to popularise the league. The quality of production is poor, marketing of the games is nonexistent, and there has been no effort to slot in magazine shows to take the conversation beyond the pitches.
This has been dubbed “the best Afcon of all time” because of the giant killings we have witnessed. Could it be because at Sh1.1 billion, the prize money is highly motivating and worth dying on the pitch for? With no prize money here at home, what do players play for? A winning allowance that takes months to be paid?
I remember days when stadium attendance during big games had to be controlled. Now, you will struggle to get the fixtures, let alone a stable live link. Little wonder, then, that stadium attendance even for games involving top clubs like Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards has deteriorated to embarrassing levels.
We now must look at the Afcon model and emulate it asap. Even if we ignore the substandard production by Azam, it is a fact that cable and satellite TV are facing their Kodak moment. The current generation prefers live streaming services for which the only requirements are a compatible device, stable internet connection, and access to the service or app itself. That is the way to go.