While the summer months are fairly quiet for Ethiopian football fans, they provide an opportunity for teams and clubs to engage in tournaments and friendly matches. These events, while not part of the official football season, help build player capacity and may even generate revenue through sponsorships and ticket sales. However, they’re not without their potential negatives, as logistics and organising may prove difficult. EBR adjunct staff writer Abiy Wendifraw spoke with key insiders to learn more about the potential and pitfalls of developing robust preseason tournaments.
During the summer months, football clubs are all but dormant in Ethiopia. Beginning in June, with the onset of annual rains, pitches across the country become too wet and muddy to host regular matches – and Premier League games wait four months to resume. When sun-drenched October arrives, domestic football devotees know it is time to welcome the new season. But just before the top flight is underway, the Addis Ababa City Cup (AACC) is an opportunity for teams to showcase their talents.
The City Cup, which was scheduled to start on October 8th but was postponed for security purposes, is an annual competition among clubs in the capital. It is organised by the Addis Ababa Football Federation (AAFF). For the city football administering body, the AACC is the major source of their budget. Though clubs may not take the competition as seriously as regular season matches, it has been always the fans’ favourite method to get a glimpse of their favourite teams’ preparation for the new season. Even the coaches know the two-week competition is a big opportunity to assess their team and players’ tactical consciousness and mental strength against competitive teams.
In the past, preseason tournaments and friendly games were not common in Ethiopia. Even the AACC is relatively recent, beginning 10 years ago. Other regional federations recently followed in the footsteps of the AAFF by organising similar competitions. This October, the Federation in the southern regional state staged a similar football contest, dubbed ‘Debub Castel City Cup’, which took place in Hawassa.
Sport experts tout the benefits of preseason matches. On the website of the popular United States-based sport news network ESPN, an article touts the benefits of preseason matches, as they break up “the monotony of training…with a fresh approach, which could [motivate] players” to perform better, offer “a new level of competitiveness that can’t be reach in [normal] training”, and “foster togetherness in the team-building process.”
While regional federations are increasingly interested in organising preseason tournaments, there are some challenges in managing the logistics of such endeavours. For example, in the months leading up to the AACC, the Federation was facing challenges regarding income generation. Additionally, peace and security issues have also prompted the postponement of the event.
Furthermore, their two major revenue sources – sponsorship and match day revenue – did not meet expectations, even prior to the postponement. This year, the Cup failed to secure a title sponsor, which is usually estimated to generate more than half a million birr. Moreover, the news that came just before the tournament was worse. Ethiopia Coffee, a club with a huge fan base, boycotted the competition.
“We were waiting for their confirmation letter until the last minute. The day after the deadline passed, we learnt from the media that Ethiopia Coffee is to play in the Debub Castel [City] Cup instead,” said Amare Mamo, President of the AAFF. Neither the club, nor Federation officials, wanted to verify what went wrong between them and Ethiopia Coffee executives. Announcing its absence from the AACC on its official Facebook page, the club only said that they came to the decision “for different reasons”.
Likewise, Amare was cautious not to provide details about Ethiopia Coffee’s decision.
Insiders, however, put those ‘different reasons’ in plain words. Ethiopia Coffee was the runner-up after Dashen Beer beat them in the 2015/16 AACC final. However, they took the crown, citing the regulation that forbids guest clubs, which the AAFF invites from other areas, not to take the trophy home. While Ethiopia Coffee was offered the main trophy, fans went home feeling bad after they heard the stadium announcer declared that Dashen Beer were the champions. Even journalists were not sure how to report it. The controversy became worse as AAFF took months to pay the allocated prize money to the participants. These are, some argue, the causes of Ethiopia Coffee’s decision.
Regardless of the actual reasons for their delay, tensions resulting from preseason matches are generally touted as a reason why they may be detrimental to sport development. In the aforementioned ESPN article, it states that minor tensions and “dust-ups…highlight the fine line teams are walking in [preseason matches] between reaching that desired intensity level but keeping things in line.”
Insiders express their dismay at the way Ethiopia Coffee handled the situation. “That was really shocking,” says Getachew Gebremariam, Vice President of the AAFF. “More shocking, however, was the time-frame in which they let us know their decision. We had to approach other teams with invitations to participate just in the nick of time.” The effort to bring Wolaita Dicha, one of the teams known for attracting huge crowds in Addis, was not successful.
Eventually, the Federation came up with the more surprising news: For the first time in the competition’s history, they agreed to invite a team from Uganda.
The Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) Football Club, which clinched the Ugandan Super League title twice in the last three seasons, agreed to participate. The Kampala-based team and the local guest, Adama Ketema, have joined St. George, Ethio-Electric, Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE), Dedebit, Defence (Mekelakeya), and Addis Ababa City.
Federation officials seem proud for successfully inviting a team from abroad to participate in the Cup. Being among the football powerhouses in Uganda, the country that qualified for the 2017 African Cup of Nations after a 38-year absence, many Ethiopian clubs see KCCA as a formidable competitor.
A friendly game with KCCA is seen as a valuable opportunity. This is especially true for St. George and Mekelakeya, which qualified for the CAF Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup, respectively, as they will benefit from practice.
Since Ethiopian teams’ lack of ability to adjust to playing against continental teams has long been noted, having friendly game with teams from another league is considered opportune. However, now that the tournament is postponed indefinitely, nothing is known as to when it will start or if the Ugandan team will still participate, as the tournament’s postponement may conflict with KCCA’s scheduled games and increase the cost of staying in Addis Ababa.
Sport research highlights preseason international ‘friendly’ matches – games in which teams play one another in a comparably low-stakes setting – as one benefit of preseason tournaments. According to IDEA Health and Fitness Association, a US-based sport training association, friendly matches are an important conditioning and coaching tool that helps build capacity among players.
This is especially true for younger footballers, a demographic that the Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF) has been trying to develop for years: “Sports conditioning programming has become less about mimicking sport-specific movement patterns and more about enhancing the physical tools for athleticism. This is even more crucial at younger ages. As a general rule, the younger the player is, the more the programme should have a general focus,” including friendly matches and low-stakes environments that “improve fitness, increase athleticism, and build the physical tools that sports participation draws on”.
With these benefits in mind, the AAFF is marking another important milestone to develop local football: a deal with R&D Group, which is a member of Netherlands-based firm RBD Consultancy. The Group will provide data and player performance analysis to contesting teams and media. The Federation believes this may help lure clubs to participate in future competitions.
A number of data companies, including Prozone and Opta, have been taking over world football in the last two decades. As the sponsor money keeps pouring in, leagues are becoming more competitive to win and teams are adopting structured analysis processes to prepare the players and decide the team’s tactics.
These matches not only help teams and federations learn more about their players, they also help generate revenue. When the four-night competition is rescheduled and completed, the AAFF and participating teams from the capital will share the revenue from stadium ticketing.
In the 2014/15 season, the winning team, CBE, pocketed about ETB120,000 which was 15Pct of the total match day revenue. Finalists Ethiopia Coffee earned 10Pct (close to ETB80,000). The lowest ranked club, Electric, took home 3Pct (around ETB24,000).
Yonas Hagos, a member of the AAFF executive committee, understands that money alone will not motivate clubs to participate. “But participating in the competition, clubs play an important role in keeping federation football development tasks going,” he said. “The AAFF allocates its budget for different lower division competitions, which encompass around 90 teams. These teams are talent pools to recruit future players.”
“Our ambition in our annual plan depends on the budget we have. That is why we work hard to secure more sponsors,” says the President.
Last year, the AAFF collected around ETB1.5 million from stadium entrance fees and distributed 42Pct of it to six clubs. The Federation earned another ETB400,000 from two companies through sponsorships. EBR
4th Year • October 16 2016 – November 15 2016 • No. 44