MTN’s exclusive sponsorship of league killing our game

THE decision by the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) to force Super Division side City of Lusaka to stop using their Vodafone branded Woodlands Stadium has exposed how vulnerable the country’s top-flight league is.

City’s crime was to invite a reputable corporate in Vodafone to refurbish Woodlands Stadium to world class standard.

That FAZ, whose responsibility it is to protect clubs succumbed to league sponsor, MTN Zambia, has actually exposed the fatigue the nation’s football is still reeling due to poor, shortsighted and selfish decisions taken without regard to the long-term sustenance of the league.
They say beggars are not choosers but even a beggar must retain some dignity but in this case, FAZ did not let the game retain some dignity.
The Kalusha Bwalya-led administration signed off exclusivity rights without engaging the owners of the product – clubs.
This is what happens when you make a decision on behalf of someone without informing them.
Truth be told, no club has ever seen the content of the SuperSport TV deal or the MTN Super Division deal.
Power Dynamos chief executive officer Ricky Mamfunda says his club may not be in the same predicament as City but their concern is that the move might affect a lot of corporate sponsors that might want to get involved in the beautiful game.
“The provisions of the MTN deal are not known by us as stakeholders so how would you expect us to know who to partner with?” Mamfunda says.
And as Andrew Kamanga campaigned for the FAZ presidency, he seemingly did so without perusing through either the MTN or indeed the SuperSport deal.
“MTN are exclusive sponsors of the league and their sponsorship with Vodafone is in conflict. We didn’t sign it. We found it already signed. It expires next year. Until then, we have to oblige with contractual obligations,” Kamanga said.
The MTN deal was seemingly shrouded in secrecy and whenever the question was raised, Football House spin doctors always said contents are open at Football House but any visitor who dared to go and affirm drew blanks.
If City were privy to contents of the deal, they would possibly not have gone to bed with Vodafone.
Also, it really shudders to realise that one would close out other potential sponsors (be it from same business or competitors) with crumbs.
City in this case are losing tens of thousands of Kwacha worth of sponsorship to satisfy a deal where they will are guaranteed less than K10,000, how do you compensate for that?
City may not be the only club in such a dilemma.
Other clubs are lucky because SuperSport does not televise their home matches.
In England (before English Premier League retained their its naming rights) Barclays were sponsors but Northern Rock Bank had shirt sponsorship with Newcastle United while Standard Chartered Bank sponsored Liverpool.
ABSA sponsors the Premier Soccer League in South Africa but Nedbank Cup bankrolls the league’s main cup competition.
MTN sponsors a cup, the MTN 8, but the country’s biggest clubs, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates’ shirts are sponsored by Vodafone.
Barclays Bank sponsors the Barclays Cup in Zambia.
It does not stop clubs wearing BancABC, Bayport, Investrust and Natsave branded jerseys from playing in the Barclays competition.
It only provides full kit for the finalists.
In England, all they did is put a certain threshold (higher value) for the perceived competitor to sponsor a club, then it’s allowed as was case with Liverpool and possibly in South Africa it could be same with regards to Chiefs and Pirates on Vodacom.
The biggest traversity is perhaps allowing FAZ to still keep the league. Stakeholders (clubs) should run their product, that way they will know how to protect their product and safeguard the game.
The kind of exclusivity demanded by MTN is shocking considering that the mobile giant only sponsors awards by giving clubs tokens based on their standing on the log.
Off course it also pays FAZ for administrative costs for running the league.
Little wonder most bottom placed clubs do not send representatives to the FAZ award ceremony because what they receive is not enough to cover their officials travel.
The Zambian league needs more than one sponsor if clubs are to break even.
They need a major sponsor and several financiers to take care of costs such as insurance, travel and camping.
Kamanga should realise that being transparent in football managemen t goes beyond announcing gate receipts after the Chipolopolo have played.
It also entails letting clubs know the contents of contracts such as the MTN and SuperSport deals.
It also entails letting clubs know the consequences of increasing the number of teams from 16 to 18 and then 20 while the SuperSport deal is still running.
What has happened to City is an eye opener to the Kamanga administration.
The MTN and SuperSport contracts must be shared with clubs henceforth.
FAZ should send that contract to the Attorney General’s chambers for scrutiny.
The league is bigger than MTN.
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