Ethiopian Business Review

Is The Ethiopian Premier League Ready For The Spotlight?: What Live Televised Club Matches Could Mean For the League and Its Fans

It’s no secret that football is a popular sport among Ethiopians. But to date, only those fans that have been able to access stadiums have been able to experience matches between their favourite clubs. But all that may be changing in the coming years, as there have been rumours that the Ethiopian Premier League is in talks with companies to sponsor televised club matches. Some say this could revolutionize the way Ethiopians watch football matches. Others are less optimistic, saying that televised matches might not be so popular among fans. EBR’s Berihun Mekonnen spoke with industry insiders about what televised matches could mean for the Ethiopian Premier League.

When Mesele Mengistu, a radio sports commentator, started doing live radio commentary during select English Premier League matches a few years ago, he immediately grabbed the attention of many football fans and the general public. The live transmissions made him arguably one of the most popular sports journalists and certainly made him a fortune. He has now opened his own FM radio station, Bisrat FM 101.1, which has several sports programs by renowned sports journalists.
Many football fans still listen to his live commentary on the English Premier League games, though they can easily watch them on live television. The local language he uses and the professional guests he invites to analyse the game both during and after the matches have made the show more favoured among football fans.
If a live radio commentary transmission made this much a difference in a journalist’s career and the ways in which fans interact with a sport played in foreign countries, one can imagine what could happened if the Ethiopian Premier League clubs’ games were televised directly from stadiums.
The Ethiopian football governing body, the Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF), is infamous for not grabbing opportunities in making money and strengthening the country’s football program. Its inability to make shirts and armbands and sell them to thousands of the national team fans in the campaigns to qualify for the 2013 Afcon for the first time in 31 years and the team’s journey to the 2014 World Cup until it lost it to Nigeria are the opportunities many say the Federation failed to take advantage of.
Despite recent improvements, such as the two-year, ETB 24 million birr sponsorship of the national team, The Waliyas, from Bedele Brewery in December 2012, and the recent telethon it held to collect money, the Federation still lags behind in realizing the benefits similar federations are reaping.
Even insiders feel that televising live events will be beneficial for the Federation. “Live transmission of football games will have a clear positive impact on the sport in general. It hasn’t been done in the past, despite rare occurrences of national team games or a few games of the Ethiopian Premier League,” says Wodimkun Alalyu, public relation head at the EFF. “The Federation lags behind in this instance. But now we have started talking with some potential sponsors and transmitters. We hope the talks will be fruitful and the live football transmission of Premier League matches on television will be realized,” he adds.
Other industry insiders agree that televised games would benefit football fans, but have doubts about this idea coming to fruition. Yonas Azeze, a senior sports commentator at Fana Broadcasting Corporation says live television football transmission would create a chance for football fans in all parts of the country to watch the premier league matches. “It will take the football games to everyone’s house, which will make everyone aware of the football status of the country.”
Still, the question remains: Is Ethiopian Premier League football entertaining enough to keep the interests of a more general audience? Yonas doesn’t think so. “In my opinion it is not. Club management and the Federation have a lot to do to improve the football in general before thinking of televising it,” he suggests. “The Premier League clubs’ competition is not showing any improvement and it may otherwise bore people and the frustration may [make the plan] backfire.”
Yonas, however, didn’t hesitate to mention that live transmission of football matches will also strengthen the Federation and clubs, which would be supported by the finances they will receive from television rights and sponsorships, as well as fan contribution fees; the more football fans there are for a particular club, the more contributions they will get.
Past attempts to televise clubs games have tried to gain traction on Ethiopian Television, to no avail. “Clubs, including ourselves, have always wanted football matches to be transmitted live on television,” says, Ermias Ashine, public relations head of the St. George Football Club. “This will help to reach a greater audience [football fans] other than the 25-30 thousand football fans that frequent Addis Ababa Stadium. St. George Football Club has made it possible to transmit its games at last year’s African Clubs Champions through negotiating with the CAF and Ethiopian Television. We have distributed the income generated through sponsorship according to our agreements,” says Ermias.
The transmission of football matches will also provide a chance for regional football club fans to watch games held at stadiums in Addis Ababa, and those fans in Addis Ababa to watch games held in other regions.
Concerning the quality of the games to attract the attention of football fans is, however, not a question for some of the football clubs. “It is a competition and though it may not be compared with the European clubs’ competition, people will tune in to watch,” argues Ermias. “I can’t agree with people who say the football is not improving. The national team’s success in the past couple of years to participate in the Afcon after 31 years, the remarkable performance in the process to qualify to the 2014 World Cup, as well as St. George’s first-time success in getting to the quarter finals (among the eight clubs) in the African Clubs Championship is tangible evidence of how the football has improved through time,” he explains.
Perhaps the biggest benefit to the live transmission of football matches is the technological approach. There are dozens of different apps and services that let football fans catch games on television, smartphone, computer or tablets, thus increasing accessibility to the matches.
If history is any indicator, televised club games have proved popular and profitable abroad. Football was first screened live on television in the UK in 1937. This was done by the BBC, who broadcast a specially-arranged friendly match between Arsenal and the Arsenal Reserves at Highbury. In 1938, international football and the FA Cup final were shown live for the first time, with the BBC providing live coverage of England Vs Scotland and Huddersfield Town Vs Preston North End.
In 1954, the World Cup was broadcast live in the UK for the first time. In 1955, ITV began broadcasting live matches from the newly formed European Cup. The BBC also began broadcasting Soccer Special, which showcased matches from the old Division One.

Berihun Mekonnen

EBR Staff Writter

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