SuperSport exit is so painful

Supersport TV crew in action during a KPL match at City Stadium Photo:Boniface Okendo

Shock and disbelief greeted the football fraternity when South African pay television channel SuperSport recently announced that they were terminating their contract with the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) which had been in existence since 2007.

For 10 years SuperSport invested in the Kenyan league, pumping in millions of shillings. No one had foreseen their exit. In justifying their exit, the giant pay television cited “breach of contract” by their KPL partners.

In a brief statement, SuperSport’s legal adviser Phillip Seleke said they had withdrawn from the partnership because of a recent court ruling which declared that KPL wasn’t the “bonafide owners” of the top-flight football league.

“The situation became untenable and it put SuperSport at risk, therefore we had no option but to terminate the contract. SuperSport will continue with its commitment to provide the best sports content in Africa via platforms with cutting-edge technology and on multiple devices,” the brief statement said.

SuperSport’s exit come hot in the heels of closing shop in more lucrative markets such as Ghana and most recently, in the football-mad Nigeria, whose population is approximated to stand above 173.6 million people according to a 2013 census.

In Kenya, it is believed that the dwindling fortunes of the pay television could have been driven by the massive drop in the number of DStv subscribers who have found the pay channel too expensive.

By raising its premium bouquet rates to Sh10,000, and with the tough economic situation currently biting, most of Kenya’s middle class households discarded their dishes. By closing shop in Kenya, SuperSport has not only left several households staring at tough financial times as it rendered over 200 employees jobless, but was also forced to ferry its broadcast equipment to Zambia, which alongside South Africa, are the only markets in Africa where they still retain a strong footprint.

Their closing shop in most African countries could be construed to mean that the South African company does not find the African leagues competitive enough. This is so because just two weeks ago, they extended their contract with the English FA to continue broadcasting the English Premier League across Sub-Saharan Africa until 2022.

In this deal, SuperSport will broadcast all the 380 Premier League matches.

The pay channel pumps Sh300 million annually to the Kenyan league and by terminating its contract, which was to run until 2021, the Kenyan league has lost approximately Sh1.2 billion in revenue. Of the monies they give to KPL, 70 per cent is channeled to the clubs, with each of the 16 top-tier teams receiving an annual grant of Sh8 million and the 30 per cent going to secretariat.

However, for some clubs, which have in the last two years operated on a shoestring budget owing to lack of shirt sponsors, the grants from SuperSport were the only source of revenue. While acknowledging the tough task at hand, KPL CEO Jack Oguda said: “It is a challenge both to the clubs and the league. It means we have to readjust our budget, while clubs have to work hard to get additional source of revenue.” He added that he does not agree with SuperSport’s claim that it’s a contractual breach that drove them out of the Kenyan market.

“In their letter, they cited breach of contract. The circumstances under which they pulled out of Nigeria are also not very clear.”

SuperSport’s move also puts at risk the lucrative five-year sponsorship deal between KPL and gaming firm SportPesa, estimated to be Sh500 million, which was entered into in 2015, making the latter the league’s title sponsors. By sponsoring the league and popular clubs Gor Mahia (Sh340m) and AFC Leopards (Sh260m), SportPesa had hoped to tap into the massive publicity whenever the team’s matches are aired on television.

Though SportPesa are yet to openly comment on the matter, sources intimate that the giant betting firm is exploring ways of having the contract renegotiated as they stand to lose with the current state of affairs. On this, Oguda says that, “We have not heard any communication from SportPesa, but we have sought a meeting on the away forward. They have however not indicated yet that they are going to pull out. The immediate implication is a reduction in grants and prizes to clubs, but we are yet to do that as the financial committee has not met.

Meanwhile, Football Kenya Federation (FKF) president Nick Mwendwa noted that, “It seems that SuperSport are not coming back. We now have to look at the rights issue of the league and how to handle it properly in future.”

In order to aid the smooth running of the league, Mwendwa said the federation has so far channeled Sh5 million to KPL, with a further Sh20 million to be wired to the league company as stipulated by their agreement with KPL and the Sports Disputes Tribunal (SDT), which saw the top-tier competition expanded from a 16 to an 18-team league.

Former player and AFC Leopards youth coach Boniface Ambani however bemoans the tough times it portends to players. He observes that, “To me, it’s the players who will lose greatly because SuperSport has done a lot for Kenyan football. Through live coverage, players got exposure to local and foreign clubs. Our clubs will also suffer because a number of them survived on the grants.”