By Robson Sharuko
Econett Media’s Kwese TV’s revelations that they are not bidding for domestic Premier Soccer League television rights, dashing hopes of a partnership with the domestic Premiership, sparked intense debate on an interactive platform for leading African football writers, commentators and administrators.
That they don’t see themselves, either both in the short-and-long-term, plunging into such a romance, merely fuelled the debate on that forum. It also cast the curious case of Africa’s heavyweight companies, who have been on a stampede to invest in English football in which they have splashed tens of millions of dollars into these partnerships in the past few years into the spotlight.
That the announcement came on the very same day the Professional Football League and beIN Sports channel, who hold the exclusive distribution of the international television rights of the French league, announced the signing of a “major agreement” for broadcasting in sub-Saharan Africa with Canal+ and Kwese TV for six years, amplified the debate.
There were some voices who asked why Kwese TV had seemingly turned their back on their domestic Premiership. Kwese TV will broadcast the French Ligue 1, Ligue 2 and the French domestic Cup matches from this year to 2024 and the leading French daily newspaper, lÉquipe, revealed the deal was worth 33 million euros (about US$40,5 million).
Kwese TV, who are believed to have splashed US$34 million for a stake of the 2018 FIFA World Cup rights, also broadcast one live English Premiership match every Saturday and Econet founder and executive chairman Strive Masiyiwa revealed in Lagos in September last year that they will try to bid to show more matches from the English top-flight league in the near future.
Expectations had been high that Kwese TV would bid for the broadcasting rights of the domestic Premiership following the expiry of the six-year deal between SuperSport and the Castle Lager Premiership as part of their efforts to grow their brand and also boost their appeal to the local constituency.
However, a statement from Econet on Monday quashed those hopes, when the company revealed “it has not submitted any bids nor entered into any negotiations for the said rights and does not plan to do so now or in the near future.
“As part of its strategy in Zimbabwe, Kwese have entered into arrangements with a number of local sports federations and will continue to develop further relationships with sports organisations. However, the PSL tender does not fall under the company’s current roll-out of products, programmes and activities.”
Interestingly, Masiyiwa unveiled his vision, which he termed the long-term development plan of African football and the part he wanted to play, in an interview with Lolade Adewuyi, the African Football Business Columnist for Goal.com in Lagos in September last year.
“I’m a buyer of sport and I have no problem with buying sport, if the (English) Premier League is available we will bid,” he said on the sidelines of an Entrepreneur Town Hall Africa Series. But sport is not Premier League, we have other sports on the Kwesé Free Sport. How many people in Nigeria actually get to see the EPL given its cost? Less than a million.
“That’s one of the reasons why we show it for free. When we show the Premier League game on Saturday afternoon we’re reaching more than 100 million people across Africa compared to one or two million that are subscribed.
“SO HOW DO YOU DEVELOP A GAME IF YOU’RE NOT ALLOWING THE MASSES TO SEE IT? THAT’S WHY WE LAUNCHED THE KWESÉ FREE SPORTS CHANNEL.
“The popularity of the English Premier League was built, we can do the same. When we are broadcasting as Kwesé, whatever you are watching here is being watched in the rest of Africa. There are five or six African countries whose football is continental.
“Zimbabweans will sit to watch Nigeria play because they know it’s one of the top countries in football because they have watched Nigeria at the World Cup. They will watch Cameroon play, they will watch Ghana play because these are our top teams.
“So we are very excited to buy rights for and to invest in those teams.
“I WOULD RATHER SPEND A HUNDRED MILLION A YEAR BEHIND AFRICAN SOCCER THAN BEHIND THE PREMIER LEAGUE BECAUSE I HAVE GOT A LONG GAME. I WANT TO LOOK AT THE FUTURE.
“So where opportunities arise, we are absolutely interested in developing African sport. But again we’re not just focused on soccer, the only reason why soccer is so popular is because that’s the only thing people have got to see.”
What this probably means, in the wake of Kwesé TV’s position on the domestic PSL, is that Econet Media — whose boss revealed he is ready to splash “a hundred million a year behind African soccer”, either don’t see the domestic top-flight league as “an opportunity” to arouse their interest to buy its television rights or they don’t believe doing so will be part of their vision of “developing African sport.”
Kwesé TV’s model contrasts sharply with how other heavyweight companies in some African countries, who have injected millions in English football, have gone about their business given that, in addition to their European adventures, they have also poured a fortune in their local market to try and develop the game.
Bidvest, who are headquartered in South Africa, poured £5 million in 2013 /2014 season and a similar amount in 2014 /15 season to be the official shirt sponsors of English club Sunderland, but crucially, they also injected millions of rands into South African Premiership club Bidvest Wits and converted them from being a university side into the champions of football in that country.
Bidvest Wits will compete in the CAF Champions League this weekend. SportPesa, a sports betting platform with operations in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa, have gone into bed with English Premiership side Everton as their shirt sponsor worth around £48 million over five years, the most lucrative deal in the club’s history.
But the company has also poured millions into sponsoring Tanzania’s two leading football clubs, Young Africans and Simba SC, and were the dominant player in the sponsorship of the game in Kenya until last month when a new 35 percent tax on their revenue from the Government there forced them to scrap all their sponsorship deals.
They were also the main sponsors of the Kenyan Premier League, the country’s flagship knockout tournament, the national Kenyan team, Harambee Stars and the national women football side while also pouring funds into the junior sides of the all the top-flight clubs in that country. They were the shirt sponsors of Kenya’s two leading clubs, Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards and also sponsored the Kenyan Sevens Rugby team.
Recently, the League Management Company in Nigeria revealed it would work with the Nigeria Football Federation and the National Sports Commission to ensure that firms operating in the country stopped sponsoring foreign clubs to push them to pour their money into the domestic game.