Remodeling Football Business

When the Ethiopian Premier League SC was established and began commercializing the televising of local football matches as of last year, many bet that Ethiopian football dependence on municipality budgets would end, with abundant commercial revenue now coming from DSTv.

Now, the league company is on another march to end its governmental dependency for good. The league company is currently conducting a study—the Ethiopian Premier League Development Plan—by hiring a consulting firm in a bid to build its own capacity and be able to attract more sponsors and partners and work in an ever-sustainable way and to never look for handouts again. EBR’s Abiy Wendifraw explores.

In the morning of Wednesday, September 29 2021, officials of the Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF) took a trip to the Ethiopian Premier League Share Company’s (EPLSC) offices located just a kilometer away from the headquarters of the regulatory body. Esayas Jira, President of the federation, has not had the chance to visit this well-branded office of EPLSC, full with eye-catching interior design and a growing workforce.

He could not hide his appreciation as the office set-up seems to declare the new era of Ethiopian football starting to enjoy the fruits of its first-ever broadcasting and naming rights agreement, signed last year.

The league company with a staff size of 13 is already planning to expand its capacity and source of revenues in the coming years. According to Kifle Seife, General Manager, there are plans to buy a new building in Addis Ababa that can serve as headquarters but also as a source of additional income from rentals. Seife states, “we need to look for other sources of revenue.

We cannot just rely on income from broadcasting rights . What if the sponsors and broadcasters refrain from taking part in the bid process after five years? Are we going to go back to the old system? That should never happen.”

The launch of the Ethiopian Premier League (EPL) on DStv is an exciting opportunity for players, fans, and club administrators. Prior to the start of the 2020/21 season, Ethiopian football was full of uncertainty, with Coronavirus not the sole reason. Most of the clubs were struggling to finance their expenses, including even salaries notably.

Because of the pandemic, municipalities and private businesses were not in a position to allocate millions of Birrs to their teams. The military conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region was another headache for the national football governing body as three of the 16 clubs, Mekelle 70 Enderta, Suhul Shire, Welwalo Adigrat University, were from this region.

EPL’s 22nd season kicked off on December 12, 2020, after a nine -month break with only 13 teams. The new league ended in May 2021, with the new champion Fasil Kenema collecting a lumpsum of ETB12 million in prize money and share of the company’s income. EPLSC collected total revenues of over ETB 163 million from the Betking Ethiopian Premier League 2020/21 season which it shared with competing clubs. Even relegated teams secured over ETB eight million each.

According to the distribution and broadcast model of EPL, 50Pct of the revenue is split equally amongst clubs, 25Pct is paid in “Merit Payments” or as per season-end placement in the league table, 15Pct is for EPLSC’s management expenses, and the remaining 10Pct is allocated to cover facility-related expenses.

The financial gains may help clubs turn the corner. In the second season of the broadcasting and naming rights deal, clubs are set to receive more capital from the league company as the annual payment increases by USD250,000. This increase will continue every season until the deal ends in 2024/25.

While the clubs seem busy preparing for the new season, EPLSC’s management is focusing on its agenda . Kifle admits that the country’s football and all those involved were not fully prepared for the positive change. He flatly states that “we need to build our own capacity to be able to attract more sponsors and partners. We lack manpower, infrastructure, and proper structures to deal with such a huge engagement. ”

As indicated in the contract with Supersport, trainings are being organized by EPLSC to capacitate club administrators, football referees, and team management staff . In A ugust 2021, a capacity-building session was facilitated in the capital for club presidents and general managers on topics including club branding, marketing principles, contract agreements, and sponsorships.

The two-day training was led by experts from Supersport and was aimed at helping club officials understand how to brand their club and benefit from it.

The new league format, introduced because of the pandemic, was an unfortunate event with a positive outcome, says the general manager. “The pitches were not ready for live broadcasts. Showing football fields in regional cities with cameras from several angles could have been a disaster. Having the league’s games in the same city gave us the opportunity to control the situation better in all the fixtures. 156 games transmitted were live on DStv.”

In the new 2021/22 season, EPLSC wants to make sure that the league will be back with Ethiopian elements. The broadcast intro jingle for the Betking EPL will have an amended logo and newly produced music melody with an Ethiopian style. The league trophy made of silver in England features a unique design reflecting Ethiopia’s rich culture.

The league which is still being led by the board assigned committee, may need to wait for quite some time to have full-time experienced professionals with an understanding of modern leagues. “The league company is now conducting a study—the Ethiopian Premier League Development Plan—underway by a consulting firm.

It has a defined objective to assess the overall structure of Ethiopian football including clubs’ financial management, mandates of EFF and EPLSC, and the potential impact of the league on clubs, players, coaches, fans, and other stakeholders. The findings will shape our detailed plan and execution,” says Kifle.EBR

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9th Year • Nov 2021 • No. 101

Abiy Wendifraw

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