KPL Free-To-Air rights: Do clubs know what it means?

By Robin Toskin: Tuesday, March 20th 2018 at 00:00 GMT +3 | Football
Spanish company MediaPro cameraman in action during their Super Cup match between Gor Mahia FC and AFC Leopards SC at Afraha stadium in Nakuru on January 28, 2018. Gor Mahia FC won 1-0. [Stafford Ondego/]

Broadcast business: KPL’s decision to break up rights monopoly misunderstood by industry players

KPL free-to-air rights: Do clubs know what it means?

Behind-the-scenes intrigues indicate a subtle battle to control FTA broadcast segment even as pay TV, digital, and radio rights remain untapped.

Vested interests and lack of understanding of how broadcast rights work in sports is exerting pressure on the Kenyan Premier League to explain why its matches are on free-to-air television yet clubs are receiving nothing in return.

On Friday, The Nairobian reported that 18 captains, citing financial problems at their clubs, had issued a seven-day ultimatum to KPL to look for a title sponsor or have the teams go on strike.

The skippers were quoted as saying that lack of sponsorship was adversely affecting the lives of most players, who depend entirely on the income from the game.

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The boycott threat came on the back of reports that the league body had rejected a Sh945,527,337 five-year deal with Bamba Sport to broadcast KPL matches.

Mediapro OB vans which have been shipped in time for the 2018 Kenyan Premier league season. [Standard Sports]

With the clubs still battling with a Sh6.7 million a year hangover in broadcast rights grants from SuperSport, who withdrew at the end of the 2016 season, the rejection of the close to Sh1 billion offer from Bamba Sports has not been well received by two club chairmen, Standard Sports has learnt.

The exit of SportPesa as the league’s title sponsors has not also helped matters.

The KPL vice-chairman and head of the sponsorship and marketing committee, Elly Kalekwa, however, dismissed the complaints as “either lack of understanding of how broadcast rights are sold or just some people trying to play politics.

“For the avoidance of doubt, KPL has not locked out anyone, Bamba included,” Kalekwa said.

“Borrowing from best practices from around the world, KPL segmented its product into pay TV, free-to-air, digital/mobile and radio segments to maximise revenue streams in the top-tier league. We invited bids late last year and we received pay TV offers some of which did not meet our technical, product quality, and financial threshold.”

According to KPL, segmenting the broadcast rights is meant to break up exclusivity, which SuperSport enjoyed until it pulled out.

In KPL’s grand scheme of things, the pay TV property, which StarTimes and Bamba Sport have been angling for,is still up for grabs.

KPL insists that should the two broadcasters or even SuperSport or any other pay TV channel wish to take it up, they will be accorded priority to pick Tier 1 matches – ideally the big matches of the nine fixtures every week. Free-to-air broadcasters would then be allocated Tier 2 matches.

Currently, the Kenyan Premier League matches are broadcast on free-to-air television stations such as KTN, NTV, KBC, and digital platform Viusasa, with KPL’s partners, LaLiga, paying for production costs, having contracted the world’s top production house, Media Pro.

The arrangement has, however, rubbed some club chairmen the wrong way and Bamba Sport, one of the broadcast rights bidders, have complained that KPL has moved goal posts.

“It is true our matches have been aired on local TV stations and we have nothing to show for it,” a chairman of one of the top clubs told Standard Sports.

Kalekwa, however, asked the clubs to be patient. “After all, during the CAF licensing process, all the clubs met the financial threshold to participate in the league. What comes from KPL by way of broadcast rights grants or title sponsorship is just to add on what respective clubs already have.”

Documents seen by Standard Sports show the conversation between Bamba Sport on one hand and KPL and MediaPro on the other, which indicates an attempt to control the broadcasting pie.

According to the offer by Radio Africa, the owners of Bamba Sport, it offered to produce and broadcast a minimum of two matches every week. Bamba Sport claims KPL had backtracked on a deal, a position that was, however, dismissed by the High Court.

A letter dated September 15 last year by Radio Africa’s chief executive officer, Patrick Quarcoo, points at the company’s apparent displeasure at the entry of Media Pro.

The letter says: “KPL is contemplating introducing a set of additional and unagreed obligations, including obligation to produce matches through a certain service provider and unspecified international production standards.”

Early last year, KPL entered into a partnership with one of the world’s best football leagues, LaLiga, which is in the process of spreading its influence in Africa.

The three-year partnership will see LaLiga help KPL build its human resource capacity, technical aspects of football, and receive advice on how to leverage on broadcast deals and market its product.

“Part of the immediate benefits of our partnership with LaLiga is that they produce quality footage of our selected league matches, good enough to be televised by any TV station that enters into an agreement with KPL,” Jack Oguda, the league’s chief said.

“As you can see, the league is now reaching millions of Kenyans, who watch our league on free-to-air platforms such as KTN, NTV, KBC, and Viusasa,” he said.

Kalekwa, who is also the owner of Sofapaka FC, insisted the decision to have KPL on free-to-air platforms was strategic.

 “We would have loved to have the free-to-air local TV stations pay for the content immediately, but we appreciate that the publicity the clubs are receiving accords the chance to knock at the doors of potential sponsors and partners because they are playing before millions of Kenyans.

“The clubs are free to use their presence on free-to-air television to pitch for sponsorships. They can sell space on their jerseys and shorts to advertise, and don’t forget billboards on the pitch side,” Kalekwa said.