Coronavirus is the latest in a long list of problems that have affected the Kenyan Premier League (KPL).
Just like other football leagues and major sporting events the world over, coronavirus pandemic has forced the cancellation of the KPL.
As of Friday, 258,930 cases of the new coronavirus had been confirmed with 11,129 deaths, across 163 countries and territories. Nation Sport looks at the key challenges that have affected the KPL since its formation 17 years ago.
The Kenyan Premier League Limited, the body that runs Kenya’s tip-tier football league, was registered in 2003.
Following constant wrangles between football administrators at the time, the top-flight league deteriorated, and participating clubs opted out to form a company to oversee the smooth running of the league in a professional and transparent manner.
The league body is fully owned and managed by 18-member clubs, each being a shareholder. The league body is affiliated to Football Kenya Federation (FKF), which is also a shareholder and voting member of the KPL Board of Directors. The improved level of professionalism in running the league by KPL Limited brought excitement and competition.
There was renewed hope in Kenyan football and eventually sponsors started streaming in. In November 2007, KPL entered into multi-million broadcast deal with south Africa-based sports pay TV channel SuperSport. That ensured live broadcast of Kenya’s top flight league the following year, as the deal took effect at the beginning of the 2008 season.
The initial contract was for five years. Three years into the contract, the two partners extended the relationship. The second cycle of the contract was signed to run from 2012 to 2015. On December 15, 2014, an improved agreement was entered into, extending SuperSport’s claim to the league’s broadcast rights to 2021. This however was terminated midway, in 2017 as SuperSport exited the Kenyan market.
Another success story for KPL Limited was its partnership with English sportswear and football equipment supplier Umbro, signed around the same time SuperSport’s broadcast deal with KPL was signed. Umbro became the official referees kit supplier and ball provider for the league.
In August 2012 the Kenyan Premier League signed a Sh170 million deal with East African Breweries Limited under the company’s flagship brand Tusker.
The league was renamed “Tusker Premier League” in what was the most lucrative deal in Kenyan football history at the time. Four months later, KPL Limited signed a Sh10 million deal with German sportswear and equipment manufacturers Puma, making the German company the official ball supplier for the Kenyan Premier League and its clubs with immediate effect.
Mid 2015, Kenyan betting giant SportPesa gained the naming rights for the league, signing a four-and-a-half-year deal with the KPL, reportedly worth Sh450 million. But in 2018, SportPesa ceased operating in Kenya and halted its sponsorship of the KPL and terminated its partnerships with 18-time Kenyan Premier League champions Gor Mahia as well as 13-time Kenyan champions AFC Leopards.
From all the listed success stories, and many more, KPL Limited has evidently done a good job in managing the league.
However, 17 years later, KPL is now a pale shadow of its former self. As it is at the moment, the league does not have a single direct sponsor, save for match production agreement with men’s top professional football division of the Spanish football league system La Liga. The deal enables a couple of games to be broadcast live. That, in essence, is not a sponsorship that brings in any revenue to the league itself.
The league clubs no longer receive monthly grants and most of them are barely surviving. Sony Sugar, a team that won the league in 2006, was expelled from the league for dishing out three walkovers.
The KPL Limited itself was forced to shift base from the swanky office based in Nairobi’s Westlands area to a smaller humble abode along Lenana Road. Players are broke and match-fixing thrives in the league. Last year’s league champions Gor Mahia are yet to receive their reward of Sh4 million. Coronavirus epidemic might have halted the current season, but the eventual winner was going to get nothing, with the KPL itself even struggling to pay its support staff.
KPL CEO Jack Oguda has remained optimistic even in obviously challenging times.
“We have sent many proposals and things are looking up. We have a number of potentials leads and I am very hopeful the league will get another sponsor soon,” he told Nation Sport.
But his hands are tied. KPL Limited’s mandate to run the league comes to an end in September and the current Football Kenya Federation (FKF) regime has openly stated its desire to take over.
“Our contract with KPL is coming to an end soon and I recently had a candid conversation with the clubs. We have agreed on how we want the KPL to be run from next season and we have many other proposals that we shall share and seek consent from the members to implement in the next Annual General Meeting,” FKF President Nick Mwendwa said during the federation’s Special General Meeting in Nairobi in January.
Among the changes Mwendwa wants to implement in the KPL is the appointment of a new chairperson by the FKF National Executive Council (NEC).
“We want KPL to have an independent chairperson appointed by the National Executive Committee and seconded by members in our next election. He will have two assistants from the KPL clubs also voted by members. The KPL must operate from the federation’s office at Goal Project. They will be independent but it will run under the guidance of FKF,” he added.
The current FKF regime itself is facing a myriad of challenges as officials seek re-election for the second-term.
They have been very clear on the fact that they will not renew KPL Limited’s mandate to run the league but with the Sports Disputes Tribunal (SDT) recommending to world football governing body Fifa to form a normalization committee to oversee elections, the dynamics could change, or not.
However, whoever takes over managing the Kenyan Premier League from next season has their work cut out for them. The league urgently needs resuscitation.