Agony for clubs, pain for players as KPL walks on a tight financial rope

Kenyan Premier League clubs are walking on a tight financial rope as they fight to stay afloat in the wake of the financial crunch that has reared its ugly head in the league.

Worst affected are the players who have borne the brunt of the financial quagmire occasioned by the exit of title sponsors, a leading bookmaker, and the exit of the broadcast rights holders Supersport.

So dire is the situation that with barely six rounds of matches played in the top division, footballers, club officials and league administrators are feeling the heat.

Matters came to ahead some 10 days ago when Nakumatt FC players refused to take to the pitch demanding amongst others, salary arrears and bonuses.

It took the intervention of former Harambee Stars coach Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee for the players to honour the match, but only after the good Mulee dished out some Sh 18,000 lunch token to be shared by the hungry players.

The league’s title sponsors terminated their five-year deal with the league body on the premise of unfriendly taxation policy by the Government after Parliament passed into law a controversial Bill on Gaming making it mandatory for gaming firms to remit 35percent of its gross earnings to the government in tax.

Earlier in 2017, KPL official broadcast partners Supersport had withdrawn their sponsorship, citing  “breach of contract” through evidence point to the contrary, another big blow to the clubs not only financially but also in talent exposure.

In the good-old-days, every club competing in the top tier would receive around. Sh 750,000 from KPL every month, from Supersport and the betting firm.

Thus, though not enough for running the club’s business in a month, the funds were crucial in settling the basics like transport and allowances for the players.

Adversely affected are the clubs without individual direct sponsors, with most coming out clearly it could be impossible to continue honouring fixtures if the current situation lingers on.

Newly promoted Wazito FC, Zoo Kericho and Nakumatt FC are some of the outfits in the financial red, while others like Kakamega Homeboyz and Vihiga United who depend on their respective County Governments have found it tough to meet their costs.

Solomon Alubala, Wazito’s patron, narrated how unbearable the situation has become.

“We are suffering, least to say. We are suffering the sins of the current stakeholders and of our fathers too. It costs at least Sh 300,000 to honour an away match in Western Kenya, while at home, in Nairobi, you need around Sh 80,000. It is not easy; sometimes officials have dug deep into their pockets to ensure things are running, but how sustainable is it?”

But what sins of the current administrators are clubs paying for? Alubala cites a reported lost deal between KPL and Chinese multinational media company Star-Times.

“Star Times had offered KPL a deal that to me was logically irresistible, for anyone whose interest is for the growth of the game. Look, Sh. 3 million to each club and an additional one million every month, could not be agreed upon simply because the potential sponsor wanted his name on a shirt.

“It was a big demand indeed, but there is always a way of nailing a deal, employing a give-and-take tactic. When you lose such a deal and you have no alternative, it leaves a lot to be desired. What could have been the point of breakdown?”  Alubala, who expressed fears of victimization for questioning how the matter was handled told Citizen Digital, unearthing the behind the scene intrigues that cloud contract negotiations, away from the prying eyes of the public.

Winners of KPL/SJAK FOYA SportPesa Premier league 2015 season, From Left: Karim Nizigiyimana (Defender), John Baraza (Fair play), Jesse Were (Golden boot) and Michael Olunga ( Most valuable player) during the gala held at the Safari Park hotel in Nairobi on December 09, 2015. Photo/Stafford Ondego/Sportpicha

He went on: “Sometimes we have failed because of ignoring consultations. We came to learn of the deal much later after its collapse, and we wondered why all clubs’ chairmen could not be engaged if the representatives found it difficult. Sometimes you raise such an honest issue and the next thing is your club being mistreated.”

According to Alubala, another pact in the offing between a betting firm, which has confirmed a comeback though in a smaller way, reflects “selfish agenda that KPL administration has been advancing”.

“They (KPL Limited summit) are plotting to take 75 percent of the money that the sponsor will be giving, leaving only 15 to be shared among 18 clubs. The argument is administrative matters require a lot of money, but you wonder what are those demands apart from paying rent and referees,” posed the former Wazito player.

Further, Alumala pointed out it has not been easy to attract sponsorship for individual clubs, blaming ugly image left by former football administrators in the local scene.

“KPL is there to market the league for the benefit of all clubs, but what have they done so far? When a sponsor gives an impression certain clubs are bigger that KPL as a body then it’s worrying.

“At our level, it has been complicated because most of the potential sponsors believe our football is so corrupt; hence fear to invest in it. It is something that can gradually be overcome through concerted efforts by all stakeholders, starting with simple elements like transparency and accountability,” averred the soft-spoken patron.

Difficult times

The same grievance was raised by Nakumatt’s secretary general Albert Wesonga, who conceded their players have not been paid for the last one month.

“We are indeed in difficult times. We have overstretched ourselves, and this is the cry of most clubs including the ones with sponsors. KPL should endeavour to channel monies from sponsors to clubs with the player, the biggest stakeholder in mind,” he said adding that: “Nakumatt Limited did not pull out completely but the little they are giving us cannot cover much, it’s just hard for everyone, knowing the minimum wage stipulated in club licensing rules for the players,” decried Wesonga whose club has had to survive on a shoe-string budget in the midst of the financial crunch.

According to the Caf- Club Licensing rules, a player in the KPL should earn Sh 35,000 as minimum wage and with clubs having squads of between 25 to 30 players; monthly salary obligation is a headache.

Homeboyz chairman Cleophas Shimanyula told Citizen Digital they have not received anything from the County Government of Kakamega this season, despite the declaration of the latter to the effect.

Kakamega Homeboyz celebrates scoring during their Kenyan Premier League match against Sofapaka FC at the Mumias Sports Complex in Kakamega on July 17, 2016. The match ended 1-1. Photo/Tabitha Otwori/

Shimanyula opines KPL can do better mitigating the clubs burden, which he says if not checked, will lower the top tier’s standards.

“We are having it rough. When you have to honour matches, pay players, the technical bench and keep all the activities running and you have nothing from KPL considering the complexity of getting funds from the county, you feel the heat. We expect anything that KPL gets to be used prudently with the interest of players given prominence,” offered Shimanyula.

Vihiga’s secretary Wycliffe Luvago appreciated their sponsor County Government of Vihiga, saying they have gone out of their way to ensure nothing stops.

“What we appreciate is the effort we have seen from them (County). Going to an extent of sourcing for loans from banks to be repaid is a no mean effort. We have never received anything from KPL, even as a grant of promotion to the top-tier league. We understand the sponsorship issues but every club can only wish it gets better,” said Luvago, whose team earned promotion to the top-tier league in December last year after a stormy run in the second-tier league, the National Super League, culminating in them bagging the title.

Long-serving Gor Mahia boss Ambrose Rachier, who also doubles as the KPL chairman, defended the league management body.

He said: “First of all, this is a conversation that is ongoing, nothing has been concluded. I personally understand the weight of running clubs without sponsors, because I head a club too.

“However, I also recognize the administrative burden for KPL. For example, of the Sh. 75 million expected, 20 percent, Sh.15 milion, will directly be kept aside for referees not forgetting rent for our offices,” Rachier stated.

La Liga president Javier Tebas present ball to Kenyan Premier League chairman Ambrose Rachier when the La Liga boss paid a courtesy call to League body offices in Nairobi, Kenya on May 10, 2017. Photo/Stafford Ondego/

Making even the situation dire is the fact that KPL entered into a marriage with Spanish based content production firm, Media Pro, which in all consideration, is profitless.

The firm, Media Pro, as a result of the deal, produces the KPL matches which are aired on a free-to-air channel, but it has no direct monetary value.

And on this, Rachier equipped: “We pay for their production cost too. In one match day we spend up to Sh. 1 million. We are only benefiting in the sense that our matches are back on TV, with very quality production but they (Media Pro) are giving us nothing.”

Used to the Supersport monthly grants and bonuses to boot at the end of every season, most KPL clubs have now turned their guns on the league secretariat in a typical case of friendly fire, questioning the importance and value  of the Media Pro deal at a time monies are hard to come by.

But even as club bosses turn their pockets inside out in search of the last penny, Citizen Digital has gathered that the returning gaming firm has already laid the ground rules, warning that the funds which will be injected must be accordingly directed into clubs.

Models display teams at a Nairobi hotel on March 31, 2016. The Kenyan Premier League launched the 2016 KPL Under-20 Championship sponsored by Sport Betting company, Sportpesa to be played in three series during the school holidays of April, August and December that will involve the 16 KPL league clubs’ junior teams. Photo/Oliver Ananda/

The firm’s CEO Ronald Karauri emphasized their interest is to grow sports in Kenya; hence any unreasonable sharing of the resources cannot be tolerated.

“We are not into bulldozing people to do this or that with what we give. It can, however, be very disappointing if clubs do not benefit from our efforts. If it forces us, we may have to engage all clubs representatives in signing any agreement in the future to ensure transparency,” Karauri said in a subtle reference to the discomfort the club bosses have for ages held in reference to revenue allocation from such deals.

Shabana FC, a force to reckon with in its golden days gone by, are some of the giants who’ve been forced to eat humble pie and fade into obscurity owing to the financial headwinds it ran into.

Nairobi City Stars, an outfit that began as a community project as World Hope are some of the clubs that have found the going tough, losing marquee talent each season, culminating in their relegation to the second-tier league at the end of the 2016 season.

Sofapaka FC, the giant who made history in 2009, bagging the crown in their debut season knows too well the pain that comes with financial it-falls and the price one has to pay.

Sofapaka FC players celebrates Humprey Okoti's goal against Tusker FC during their SportPesa Premier League match at the Ruaraka grounds on November 11, 2017. Photo/Stafford Ondego/Sportpicha.

In 2016 for instance, the club evaded the relegation chop by a whisker after a miserable run bedecked by talent hemorrhage and law-suits from players who felt they had received the short end of the stick as far as club financial obligation is concerned, the case of Eugene Asike still fresh in the memories.

Poignantly, as KPL scratches its head in a bid to find a long last solution, clubs continue to walk the tight financial rope with many players, unable to cushion themselves from the change of fortunes, suffering in silence.

But even so, the clubs themselves share the blame for not engaging in income-generating activities to help them keep them afloat and also insulate them from such financial weather.

Jacob Icia, a football enthusiast, is Royal Media Services Chief Football Writer and a Match Commentator on Radio Citizen.

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