By Abu-Bakarr Sheriff
The Sierra Leone Premier League commenced yesterday with a host of games scheduled to take place between teams in the top flight, after a long hiatus. To many football-mad supporters, the development is welcome news, not least because local talents will yet again be on display for thousands of supporters to marvel at, and perhaps relive memories of Kama Dumbuya, late Ismail Dyfan, Junior Tumbu, Mohamed Kallon, et al.
The move, though belated, after months of rancour and bad blood between a divided football fraternity due to a controversial election which brought in the current administration, will be highly welcome. It however leaves a bad taste in the mouth, because of the economic or financial value of the sponsorship package agreed between the Sierra Leone Football Association and Sierra Leone Brewery Limited.
According to FA sources, the beverage company will spend Le100 million, being the sole and key sponsor for the league. I cannot help but laugh at the apparent disgraceful deal, despite the euphoria which has greeted the sponsorship deal, especially from apologists of the current FA boss.
I would hasten to say that the Premier League needs money and by extension sponsorship as most of our clubs are poor and sustained by individuals who also lack the financial wherewithal to keep the teams on both legs throughout the league. Hence, to effectively participate in the league, and to be competitive and less vulnerable to corruption and match fixing, the clubs need to get something out of the league.
It goes without saying that it is the responsibility of the FA and the Premier League Board to ensure that sponsorship is sought for the Premier League football competition in the country. At least that is how their counterparts in West Africa perceive their role to be, and thus perform as such.
Of course clubs have other responsibilities, such as to pay players and look after their welfare. However, because the Premier League is the flagship completion of the FA, it is a cardinal responsibility of the current administration and subsequent ones to find the right partners or sponsors for various competitions they organise.
I see it as a quid pro quo. A win-win for all parties: the FA, the clubs/players, and sponsors. Therefore, the right price should be sought and acquired, as all parties stand to gain adequately from the deal. As a result, while a well-sponsored league will add feathers to the FA’s cap, clubs and players will also benefit from the financial spoils from a lucrative sponsorship deal. As for the sponsors, their products, such as the new Mutzig beer brewed by Sierra Leone Brewery, will be exclusively marketed before, during and post matches, as well as at events hosted by the FA and clubs. In a country where pubs dot almost every major street, that will only accord the sponsors a golden opportunity to increase their sales and most certainly raise their profit margin. In sum, the quality of football will improve, fans and supporters will once again enjoy the game, and savour those glorious moments, while enjoying few pints of Brewery products.
But the current sponsorship deal only makes mockery of the new FA slogan, ‘Raise your Game’ because what it has succeeded in doing is actually lowering the game! What is Le100 million, approximately US$22,000, for fourteen (14) Premier League sides? No brainer, a drop in the ocean.
And perhaps more ominous for the clubs is that the FA has not disclosed how much each participating team will actually get from the pittance. That is how other FAs, even in Africa do, so as to incentivize teams and to add aura and glamour to their leagues.
That is what the Nigerian FA has done, by bargaining and securing huge deals from Globacom, a telecom giant, for the Nigerian Premier League, plus a separate deal with Super Sport, which televises and shows live Nigerian Premier League games to millions of sub-Saharan audience.
The same is true about Ghana, where the Kwesi Nyantakyi administration first secured a lucrative deal with Globacom, but had to terminate it because the latter could not honour their financial obligations to the Ghana Football Association, believed to be in the region of a whopping US$6.5 million.
As that is just the genesis. In 2013, the South Africa-based Super Sport paid US$700,000 television rights sponsorship to sixteen (16) Ghanaian Premier League teams for the right to show their matches live on the continent. That money, plus other sponsorships, actually gives many, if not all, Ghanaian Premier Leagues clubs a financial lifeline.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The current topflight football league in Ghana is sponsored by a local bank – First Capital Plus – which has ploughed US$10 million as sponsorship to the Ghana Premier League, spanning five years. Thus, the indigenous bank will be spending US$2 million each year, over the next five years on football in Ghana.
That is what a good sponsorship is, not our US$22,000 sponsorship by Brewery, which by the way is less than what two Ghana Premier League sides shared as part of their share of the previous Globacom sponsorship deal.
The above examples are the ideal sponsorship package, one which will benefit teams and the game collectively, not a pittance from a company which rakes billions of Leones each year from an increasingly alcohol consuming public.
In sum, my message to the Isha Johansen administration is simple: as a serious and responsible FA, with a desire to ‘raise your game’, you should go after bumper sponsorship deals from financial institutions, not just a single one, for the Premier League and FA Cup.
With the right crop of people, determination, ability and conviction, you can do it. Others have done it on the continent, from north to south, east to west. Why not Sierra Leone Football? It is only by so doing that you can ‘raise the game’ not by mere slogan, and a laughable sponsorship deal.
Such a sponsorship deal will only produce a league which gives no hope to participating clubs, players and fans, as it will be underlined by lackluster performances, average attendances, and poor officiating, as the case may be.
Long live Sierra Leone Football!