Chinese Sports Ensembles and Their Legacy

China is Super Super

If you are keen football fan, in 2017 you must have seen the kerfuffle the rumored move of one Diego Costa from 2016-17 English Premier League champions, Chelsea to some nondescript Chinese team and an even more nondescript football league.

Having lured Brazilian youngster Oscar with a multi-million deal from the same team it almost seemed a no-brainer that the Spanish striker (Costa) would follow suit without much ado. This was during the transfer window open within Dec-Jan mid-season break of the European leagues. However, the deal fell through but indeed the Chinese Super League – the top-tier football league had finally shone its spotlight to the rest of the world. This is a league which included some of the budding and former stars as Argentine Carlos Tevez, Brazilian Ramires,to name but a few. 

Foreign football stars in Chinese Football league - (Image courtesy of
Foreign football stars in Chinese Football league – (Image courtesy of


Interestingly this allure seemed to have attracted Kenya’s own striking talent, former Gor Mahia Michael Olunga who had plied his trade in Europe and seemed destined for the stars – who ended up with the Chinese club – Guizhou Zhicheng {he’s currently plying his trade in Japanese club Kashiwa Reysol}

Back to the Chinese Super League in football, thanks to the buzz created around it, it did get much coverage in mainstream media. This also forced the Chinese Football Federation (or should we say after a slight nudge of the ruling Communist Party…?) to introduce a quota, which forced the teams to limit the number of foreign players. A sampling of say 11 players, seven ought to be Chinese, two from the Asian continent in addition, two from other parts of the world or something close to that…

This was in a bid to curtail foreign players’ dominance (thanks to the allure of the monies involved). This also hastened introduction of a salary cap to ensure players will not run the clubs aground with extravagant pay packages. 

However, like some things Chinese, the Football League came with a bang – slowing down to a whimper. Early July 2017, 13 clubs in the top tier were in the red with claims of breach of financial regulations about pay, bonuses and players transfer fees. The Asian Football Confederation is in pursuit of these claims and hoping to iron the Chinese football scene; on sports infrastructure, Chinese cities have sought to bid for major sporting events with the highlight of this being the 2008 Beijing Olympics Games. This sports renaissance was an important milestone to announce the Chinese ‘dragon’ of the 21st century. 

Chinese-African alliance? (Image courtesy of
Chinese-African alliance? (Image courtesy of

Beyond their local space, the Chinese made deliberate moves into Africa and other developing economies to form the core of infrastructural projects. With what critics call stadium diplomacy, the Chinese authorities undertake to finance the construction or maintenance of stadia, in exchange the government of the day signs off with Chinese contractors offering support and exposure to their own. There are over 40 stadia constructed or refurbished by Chinese contractors in the last 10-15 years in Africa alone!  

In contemporary times, the Chinese aid focuses on themes of “equality, mutual benefit and no-strings attached”, according to China’s Information Office of the State Council. This form of committing foreign aid and subsidized loans makes the Chinese attractive to Government functionaries’ especially in Africa. 

 This model revamped the Kasarani stadium right here in Kenya. There was an urgency to the process as Kenya had bid and won to host the last World Under-18 Athletics championships early in July 2017. A successful event depending on how you view, though not without heavy Government subsidies – like the ‘free entry which saw the stadium fill to capacity in the last 2 days of the event.

Old is gold?
We pat ourselves in the back for hosting, an event of such magnitude even as the country prepares for a momentous election in August. It is important to note what the legacy of such huge infrastructure projects is and how the Government of China would support African governments.
The only other major sporting event (of such magnitude) besides this that Kenya held was the Africa Athletics championships in 2010 and the All-Africa Games in 1987. Both events necessitated the construction and refurbishment of two of the largest sports edifices in Kenya. Besides the occasional tournaments such as the Safari Sevens, Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers and athletics meets, the venues usually go for long periods unused and in disrepair.

Estadio 11 De Novembro - Angola
Estadio 11 De Novembro – Angola

The current administration had promised five state-of-the-art stadia by 2017 while getting into government. In 2014-5, a baseline study was done on which venues were likely to be constructed or repaired; the process was both tedious and mired in both national and county diplomacy. Choosing whom to believe, we would think this was an overkill. As much as Kenya is a sporting powerhouse in the region and indeed in Africa, it would be prudent to look at what are the priorities – new investments in sports infrastructure or refurbishment and appraisal of existing stadia and sports facilities.
This needs to follow with a deliberate effort to engage the youth and citizenry in sporting activities both as a recreational and career activity. Unfortunately, the disjointed efforts from the national government, county administrators’ as well as sports bodies has seen the country without a coherent sports and recreation policy guideline.

Legacy and not the Subaru…
Perhaps one thing we ought to learn better from the Chinese or other ‘benevolent countries’ while developing our sports infrastructure is the legacy of these venues.
Examples such as the London Olympics venues in 2012 which have either been converted into national sporting venues or sold out to clubs, there is need to have a commercial viability to our sporting venues and sports investments.  Committing investments such as was done for the World Under-18 Youth Athletics champions then leaving these to lay waste is unacceptable. IAAF, which provided some of the funds to the event, was satisfied with the Government support. Collaborating with higher learning institutions, which would host sports infrastructure like the High Performance centre proposed at Kenyatta University, is a step in the right direction. Again though, there has to be deliberate and calculated move to engage the public in owning and using such facilities.
This will ensure the legacy of major sports events is not lost on the public and a sense of despair and dishonesty pervades sports edifices and related investments.

Back to our Asian partners. With the entreaties to our national governments to engage in exploiting opportunities for investing in Kenya and indeed in Africa, remember the populace will only accept to be blind for only so long. If there is no genuine public good in investing in such infrastructure, it will be a matter of time before the same public revolts and openly opposes any investments.

To paraphrase Zig Ziglar, “You don’t build a stadium, you build people, and the people build the stadium”. 

Future Of Sports – Do We Have What It Takes?

{In our ongoing revamp of this blog, we are posting articles published in various magazines and forums. On this one done in 2018, we explored the future of sport as we know it, and its changing ways…read on}

The beauty of sports is the fervor and flavor they bring into sports – some call it legendary, others timeless or the best show depending on what action that you may be watching. Sport makes us change whole schedules, align our calendars according to who’s playing, take or break a holiday.

According to one David Rowe,

“sport…transfers across society and culture in a continuous feedback loop; creating an ‘amoeba-like cultural capacity to divide and reform…”.

Sport in all its forms is an image of a changing society, motivated by varying degrees of attaining excellence. 

This year alone, we have seen technological advances making their way into sport – what with Video Assisted Refereeing (VAR) or Artificial Intelligence (AI). In my previous article, I captured a bit of the convergence happening in media that is now coming into sport.  Beyond the media, there are developments in athletes’ performance as records look to be broken, use of sport as social and political capital, betting and gaming in sport which keeps growing over phenomenally.

Future Stadium? Image courtesy of
Future Stadium? Image courtesy of

The past World Cup in Russia brought together 32 of the best countries playing for the Coupe du Monde, while in the background there was an equally big tournament albeit on gaming consoles the FIFA e-World Cup in London’s O2. The correlation here being the endorsement by FIFA of a gaming tournament originally developed by Electronic Arts Sports fondly known as EASports.  

To put things further into perspective, the tournament achieved an audience of 29 million viewers on the digital platforms which include live transmission on YouTube and other TV companies mainly through their different digital assets.

The business of sports is immersing itself in fascinating changes – with a shift from amateurism on most sporting disciplines to professionalism; the progress in performance by teams and individuals alike (did I mention Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon record-breaking feat?) and the impact of media and its convergence with digital platforms.

In addition to this, there has been a concerted effort in commercializing sport starting in the late 1970s thanks in part to the likes of Joao Havelenge (former FIFA head honcho) and the late Juan Samarancha – of IOC) and soon-to-retire Richard Scudamore who managed to guide their respective sports into commercial monoliths and commanding huge sponsorship fees and exclusive TV rights – enriching sports administrators and individuals as well as sporting teams with the right mix of capabilities.

To help us understand this better, I will tackle a few of the main highlights that will influence sports at a global level – and some may be making the transition already. 

Population Explosion

When economists (or is it politicians?) tell us “…it’s the number, stupid!” the same happens in sport. Starting with the expected population growth in emerging markets, the shift of influence in the way sport is consumed is changing. Estimates from the International Database and the United Nations, put the current world population at 7.7 billion – with over 4 billion at below the age of 25, yes Millennials are taking over!

But on a serious note, the demographics indicate a need to rethink how the world has fashioned sports and recreation. 

Audiences are slowly moving from the traditionally economically stable North America and Europe to Asia, parts of South America and Africa. While this is still a long way from shifting spending patterns, a different script maybe written for the pool of sporting talent. These changes will continue in the medium into the longer term.

It may seem far-fetched as to the effects of the population explosion in the emerging countries – ask the mobile device companies, telecoms and mobile money innovations to see what potent these numbers have.

Sport Everywhere, Anytime!

Technological innovations have helped in converging media. This convergence is improving how we receive real-time and recorded sports events – it is not uncommon nowadays to know of a game’s latest score by simply switching one’s data capabilities on the basic mobile phone.

Inexpensive technologies such as these and others in development will continue extending to audiences such as shown above in emerging countries. With the cost of connectivity to the Internet dropping considerably and with digital and social media companies taking a critical role in rights ownership and media consumption, it will make sport accessible everywhere and at any time. 

Evolution of the Athlete

Eliud Kipchoge broke the 42km marathon world record at 2hours 01 minute and 39 seconds to become the first runner to do a sub 2hrs 02mins time in the race. This improvement was the biggest margin in improving the time since 1967 – 51 years later!

Futuristic sportsman
Futuristic sportsman

{Update: Eliud Kipchoge lowered this record to a sub 2 hour time of 1:59:40 running against the clock in Vienna on 12th Oct 2019…look-out for an analysis of this in an upcoming post…}

Do we recall how many times the swimming records have been broken since the last Olympics or World Swimming championships?

This is the age of sports science taking performance to a whole new level. While the reputation of many an athlete will be ruined by the banned performance-enhancing drugs, the larger majority are resorting to grit, sweat and nerve-wrecking training regimes. 

We saw what happened when Serena Williams did with her specially designed tennis suit which didn’t seem to impress Wimbledon top officials. Returning mothers will find an easier transition back into sport to perform better and record much-improved performances.

New Engaged Fan

We have seen what and how fans can influence a sport. The fan of the future will be more engaged – this maybe through more interactivity beyond the social media and digital platforms to virtual environments. We have seen this in play at the gaming leel where mainstream sport bodies such football’s FIFA and basketball’s NBA have worked closely with gaming companies including EA Sports to mainstream gaming. Already fans through their viewing experience can manipulate angles, follow particular players, and record certain parts of the game and replays to match these in their one-on-one video gaming sessions.

From a less technological perspective, fans are already creating, generating and distributing their own sports content – thanks in large part to the ubiquitous mobile phone. This includes live-action capturing missing parts of the game(s), unique angles of the game as well as player reviews and even coach critiques. Anyone remember the Arsenal Fans TV channel on YouTube and its bit-part in forcing former manager Arsene Wenger into departing the English club?  No more pussy-footing fans with laggard and lethargic performances lest you face the wrath of these ardent fans.

Sports Arenas Evolving into Greater Entertainment and Recreational Attractions

Sports venues have traditionally sat on acres of land wasting away most of the pre-season. This is changing rapidly. While there is still restricted access to the main areas of a stadium or sports venues, we have the managers of these facilities providing huge screens and sound to follow action taking place in the arena. 

More of these venues will seek to develop theme park-like features complete with team or sponsor-themed attires and merchandise to attract all fans and sundry. Once the season is done, these venues will continue playing host to entertaining concerts and related performances as well as areas for recreational and health facilities. 

Forward-thinking designers will uncover venues which can be done and redone at the end of major tournaments to ensure profitability and a return to investment from infrastructure projects as these. Are we watching what Qatari-based architects propose to do with some of their stadia post-2022?

Extra Time

In addition to this, local governments will play a greater role both at regulatory and legislatively level in sports-related events and projects. With differing needs of sporting organizations, business interests and fans, balances and checks will improve information and knowledge management for sports. This will keep in check media and gaming or betting companies which seem to become over-bearing in their seek of improving sport.

As noted by Aaron Smith and Hans Westerbeek in their book The Sport Business Futire,

‘sport exemplifies humanity, physicality, challenge, fragility, triumph, failure, belonging, comradeship and combat…and it will back in its pure form…’

Are we ready for this future?

Africa Cup of Nations – Africa Sports Con or Confidence in African Sports?

{This article is taken from an earlier edition published in the Marketing Africa magazine – July 2019 edition}.

“Play has become spectacle, with few protagonists and many spectators, soccer for watching. And that spectacle has become one of the most profitable businesses in the world, organized
not for play but rather to impede it. The technocracy of professional sport has managed to impose a soccer of lightning speed and brute strength, a soccer that negates joy, kills fantasy
and outlaws daring. Luckily, on the field you can still see, even if only once in a long while, some insolent rascal who sets aside the script and commits the blunder of dribbling past the entire
opposing side, the referee, and the crowd in the stands, all for the carnal delight of embracing the forbidden adventure of freedom.” Eduardo Galeano – Soccer in Sun and Shadow

At inception in 1957, the Confederation of African Football (CAF), started with an ambitious plan seeking to ‘unite emerging African nations’ through football. Ethiopia’s Yidnekatchew Tessema – one of CAF’s founding fathers during a CAF Congress in 1974 gave a rallying call by noting
the following;

“I’m issuing a call to our general assembly that it affirms that Africa is one and indivisible, that we work towards the unity of Africa together… That we condemn superstition, tribalism, all forms of discrimination within our football and in all domains of life. We do not accept the division of Africa into Francophone, Anglophone, and Arabophone. Arabs from north Africa and Zulus from South Africa, we are all authentic Africans. Those who try to divide us by way of football are not our friends.”

The wave of independence was sweeping across African states, this one sport that was thought to be a unifier of the masses. This saw the inception of Africa Cup of Nations as a flagship of CAF. There was borne a tournament of continental proportions which has had its rough and tumble as well as memorable and historic moments.
Gradually the tournament has grown to be one of the biggest sports extravaganzas on the continent. It has also managed to attract interests among major corporate brands. In July 2016, Total has secured an eight-year sponsorship package from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to support 10 of its principal competitions.

The tournament has also been expanded from the 16 to 24 teams with the aim of attracting wider interest across the continent. It is also hoped to speed up growing the various national football leagues.

“Throughout the tournament (2010 World Cup), one could see that African soccer had conserved its agility but lost its inventiveness and daring, lots of running but little dancing. There are those who believe the managers, nearly all of them from Europe, cast a chilling effect. If true, they did scant favor for a soccer that promised so much exuberance. Africa sacrificed its flair in the name of efficacy, and efficacy shone by its absence. Many African players worthy of their heritage of good soccer live and play on the continent that enslaved their ancestors.” Eduaro Galeano

With rapid growth of the Africa Cup of Nations, comes the vagaries of keeping up with the pace of expansion and growing across the different regions of the continent. A couple of premises and developments have been observed and here’s a preview;


First the frequency of the tournament is bound to stretch even the richest of resource-rich countries. While the last couple of host nations have enjoyed a fair share of economic growth, the possibility and prospects of hosting such a tournament have been largely the work of their political and national leaders. It is also where national federations can bring together corporate
and local support for the game.
However, there are a few cases where the federations are not able to get the necessary support – and funding for that matter – to host the tournament. That initial hosts Cameroon for the 2019 edifice could not get their act together was not a wonder. Egypt did manage a fair value as the substitute but only with the infrastructure and the logistics of hosting such an event.
While it maybe argued that CAF is hoping to grow the game faster to catch up with the continental counterparts in Europe and South America, it will do a great disservice to its national teams not getting enough time to recover from one tournament to the next.

The headache of hosting the tournament will also continue haunting the CAF honchos in the interim with only a select few countries able to turn around the tournament within the 3 years from one to the next. It will also keep the divide between ‘emerging nations’ in the game – the likes of Madagascar,Rwanda and Ethiopia wider instead of creating competitiveness with established footballing nations such as Egypt, Nigeria and Cote de ’Ivoire.

While Egypt was able to host the tournament, the worrying state has been the missing fans from the stadia. African audiences are known to love their football and are still hungry for some live action. This has not been the case in Egypt and this was exacerbated by the departure of the Pharaohs in the second round.
The ‘empty seat syndrome’ has been prevalent with the average fan attendance being between 5000 – 7000 even for traditional rivalries such as Nigeria v/s Cameroon among others. The argument has been for football fans voting with eyes and not their feet – the power of TV and
viewing. Having the necessary infrastructure to enable travelling fans is another consideration that must be made for future hosts nations. Egypt is a mixed basket for visitors as is most African nations.
The recently signed trade pact needs to explore such challenges as visas for travellers, be they business, entrepreneurs, leisure, or sports fans.
Europe and South American fans are known to travel hundreds if not thousands of miles to catch their national teams. The recent Copa America is testimony to this. Look too at not just the European Nations Cup but also club championships, there is provision and ease of travel across borders.

While the tournament may not hold a candle among other continental championships across the world, it would still claim a fair share of its broadcast audience compared to other such continental championships.

One of the main reasons for moving it from the first quarter of the calendar year was to not only reduce the interruption of players plying their trade in Europe but also to reduce the competition for audiences. A survey by GeoPoll carried out in June 2019 indicated that the African Cup of Nations attracts great interest across African audiences only second to the World Cup. The survey covered 6 nations fairly spread from East, West, Southern and North Africa.

The findings indicated 83% of the respondents would follow the tournament in some form or other. TV emerged as by far the most favoured form of media to follow the tournament – 85% while mobile and online trailed at 30% and 18% respectively. This shows the potent of this form of
media in this part of the world.

On social media platforms, Facebook was the favoured option as 65% of the respondents indicating using it to follow the tournament. Does this support their entreaties into the world of live sports and specifically football?

Remember Facebook will be screening select games of the English Premier League live in the coming 2019/20 season…The crux of matters media is the challenge of broadcast rights. As of April 2019, there had not been a clear summary of the broadcasting partners. While some of the Pay TVs on the continent had already grabbed a sizeable amount of rights to screen the games, it was left late for most national broadcasters. They put in a last-minute bid for select games (as was the case in Kenya and perhaps most of the nations especially those that did not qualify).

Competing Tournaments
Concurrent to the Africa Cup of Nations at some point were the Women’s World Cup which was quite a marvel compared the men’s game…no faking fouls, no diving, lots of goals and controversies surrounding the VAR ‘animal’… In there too was the Copa America for the South American nations and two guest nations invited from across seas – Qatar and Japan gracing the 12-nation display.
That these two would run during the Africa Cup of Nations meant there were competing audiences and shift of attention even for the media covering the tournaments. While it may not be in CAF’s power, they can make a compelling case to have some exclusivity in having the
tournament with none of a similar magnitude held at the same time.
It can also help CAF’s Organizing Team to secure globally competitive sponsors who would find value for money in sponsoring the tourney. The sponsors would also be safe in find ad spots competitive and favourable the continental and global targets.
Corruption – Real or Suspected
It was a spectacle to behold that CAF’s President would be hauled to the courts even before managing his first Africa Cup of Nations. It was press – and bad press for that for the tournament organizers.
As the tourney ends, the charges may have been swept under the carpet for now but may re-emerge once the trophy is lifted by the new champions.

It is not in my place to cast aspersions in the conduct of the CAF President and other CAF officials. Surely this is not the sort of coverage they would have hoped for. To mitigate against such incidences, the body must constitute a transparent approach and officials be above
reproach in their dealings on behalf of CAF. Africa’s football federations maybe mired in challenges up to and including corruption, but this
can be the turning point of the game. There are myriad opportunities to generate revenue and funds not only to grow the game but also to be reward for a job well done. Daydreaming or snowball’s chance in hell?
Related to the broadcast media above, is the role of technology. We must acknowledge we’re in an era where I can log on to some social media platform or other and get live updates of the games.
Well, these must be considered for future tournaments for both pre-tournament and during the games. They can be used effectively to hype and build attention and interest. Technology can also be used to ease the way we consume sports – from improved stadium infrastructure – what with the soaring temperatures of some of the venues, to supporting evolving transport infrastructure.
Adaptability of technology is a major positive for developing economies and more so in Africa. I cannot emphasize the need for sports administrators and football in running sports as both vibrant brand and business propositions. Goodwill must be built at political and economic levels
and a collective approach from stakeholders in each of these. Upgraded infrastructure, training areas as well as competitive leagues with attractive packages for our players, why can’t African football retain its own best talent as an alternative of exporting to Europe and other continents?


Renaissance of the Lion? Has the EPL reignited the glory days of English football in Europe?

Champions in Europe

In the heat of the Brexit debate in the English Parliament a few (months) ago, the then retiring PM Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn were jibing about the English teams in Europe. Quoting Corbyn, he stated,

“In view of the amazing performance of Liverpool last night, perhaps the prime minister could take some tips from Jürgen Klopp on how to get a good result in Europe.”

To which the PM replied, 

“I actually think that when we look at the Liverpool win over Barcelona last night, what it shows is that when everyone says it’s all over, that your European opposition have got you beat, the clock is ticking down, it’s time to concede defeat, actually we can still secure success if everyone comes together.”

The gist of banter was to show the supremacy of the English Premier League teams. Both politicians were right to gloat about the dominance of the team. In the most prestigious football leagues in the world, the Champions League and Europa League, England had 4 of its teams in the Finals. What’s even more fascinating, the finalists in these leagues finished 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th respectively. If you include the semi-finalists, the top team and 6th best from the EPL come into play.

Taking a trip to last year’s World Cup in Russia, England managed to best even the pundits to finish 4th after a fairy tale tournament. Under the guidance of then unfancied Gareth Southgate, as well as a youthful and untested team, the “Three Lions” managed to upset the formbook to book a place in the Semis, to be undone by the Croats.

Making the semis and accumulating $22 million in prize money as well as related TV earnings, endorsements and sponsorships have seen the English national team become the darling of the English media and companies too.

Does the club dominance and national team advancement indicate a renaissance of English football?

Conquering Europe…

Analysis from The Guardian (an English publication) annual review of the English Premier League clubs shows the 20 EPL teams made record revenues of $ 6.09 billion (approx.£ 4.87b). Compare this with the German Bundesliga which recorded revenues of $ 4.89 billion for 36 clubs in the two top divisions, or the Spanish La Liga with $ 4.87 billion for all 42 clubs in its top two leagues. Notice how the latter two have combined the top leagues compared to the EPL’s 20 clubs?

Observers have attributed the record revenues to the EPL’s lucrative international TV rights and once again the top clubs’ European success. This will be translated to increased revenues from UEFA TV and expected prize money.

In the KPMG’s Soccer Clubs’ Enterprise Value 2019 ranking, the EPL’s takes the lion’s share with 6 clubs – with Manchester United at $ 3,56 billion being toppled from the top by Spain’s Real Madrid. London-based and 2019 UEFA Champions League Finalists rounds up the English teams in the top 10 at number 9 valued at $ 1.85 billion.

This KPMG report also known as the Football Benchmark use five football-specific measures to extrapolate an Enterprise Value (EV), broadcasting rights, profitability, popularity, sporting potential and stadium ownership.

Andrea Sartori, KPMG’s Global Head of Sports noted, 

“For the third consecutive year, the overall EV of the 32 most prominent European football clubs has increased by 9%…The transition of major clubs into media and entertainment companies, with global brand exposure, also helps create more stable and predictable cash flows and consequently better warranties to investors and financiers”.

The situation is replicated in the Deloitte’s Bull’s Eye Football Money League 2019 report with a similar scenario to KPMG’s report of 6 EPL sides. See the infographic below:

Image result for deloitte football money league 2019

{Image courtesy of Deloitte Finance}

These reports have buttressed the growing dominance of the English clubs in the European top flight. Critiques though have been quick to note that the top 6 EPL teams including both Manchester City and United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham are pulling away from the rest of the 20 teams.

Millions have been spent to secure the best signings – the EPL has the most expensive, goal-keeper and most expensive defender (interestingly England is ahead of the pack of other European countries in player buying records at 15 of all record-signings, compared to Italy’s 8 and Argentina’s 5.

The EPL introduced the Home-Grown Player rule as part of an initiative to have the Premier League nurture talent from its own shores rather than buy its way to expensive talents as noted above. The hope is to offer a higher chance of the League producing better quality of English and other British players. 

The success of the “Three Lions” in 2018 may have finally started bearing fruits to the EPL’s head honchos looking to have cracked the nut. The same would said to the clubs’ success with each of the top and mid-table teams having a player or two representing the country.

The clubs’ management and boards have pulled all stops to secure the services of the top managers from across Europe.  In recent times, the English clubs have also sought to expand their infrastructure with Tottenham opening a truly state-of-the-art edifice of a stadium. 

The youth system in each of the clubs is bearing fruit as can be seen by the budding talent that is the under-19 and under-21 English teams. 

What next?

Brexit or Be-in?

The biggest test now for the EPL is how the English democracy negotiates the Brexit process. Having cost two PMs their jobs, the process seems to be claiming heavy political casualties. The economy has also been shook as has been the country’s currency. It is subtly permeating the sports scene albeit not with the pronouncements that the politicos have been warping. 

The bigger battle now for the EPL is to ensure that this doesn’t destabilize the League and bring disrepute to it. Immigration and how to handle players coming from the other EU countries as well as less developed economies will become imperative.

When Brexit happens, footballers from these countries maybe treated in the same way non-EU footballers are currently treated. This means they will have to meet a certain criterion to obtain a work permit which would allow them to work (or play for that matter) in the UK as employees of a football club.

A study done by BBC in 2016 estimated that over 300 players in the English Premier League, Championship and Scottish Premiership would not satisfy the criteria set out for working in the UK. The other side of this would be the status of British players plying or hoping to move to major leagues in Europe. The increased administration in applying for work permits would be make less lucrative for most players.

Similarly, foreign coaches would suddenly face the same scrutiny and criteria to work in the UK. As of 2018-19 season 14 out of the 20 clubs in the EPL had a non-British coach at helm. After Brexit, the challenge of retaining or attracting these non-Briton coaches would be real.

The image of the EPL will endure a moderately stifled atmosphere – based on restricted movement and reducing financial power. While the current situation slightly proves the critics wrong, the move will have an effect in the next 2-3 seasons with their continental contemporaries making money moves – Real Madrid in Spain, PSG in France and Juventus in France are but some watching from the fringes.

The saving grace now is the current impasse of Brexit where the British government sought a delay to Q3, 2019 and the remote possibility of Brexit not happening at all should a second referendum point towards staying in the EU. The EPL bosses would be rubbing their hands for the latter.

The Football Association which runs the English national team while enjoying the glory of the men’s national team success, is still cognisant of the impact the game needs to make for continued success. Funding of grassroot football through the sale of Wembley stadium among other moves is a commendable effort. What remains to be seen is if this will be sustained in upcoming European engagements and replicated in the Middle East in 2022. The success of the junior teams will point towards achieving this success but with aplomb. 

With globalization changing the face of sport and indeed the biggest impact on the football game. The biggest teams in Europe have become major brands across the world. This will continue in expanding the clubs and corporate sponsorships therein. The rapid change in technology and how we consume media will enable the teams reach audiences far and wide. 

The English Premier League has been the most consistent of the European leagues in looking to deliver a holistic approach for clubs, owners, brand and game experiences. They continue to explore pockets of opportunity to grow the game as the fan demographics and consumption behaviour and expectations change.

For now, though, let’s enjoy the glory days of the Three Lions and the conquering teams of the English Premier League in Europe.

What makes for a Winning Combination?

By Richard Wanjohi

France - World Cup 2018 Winners
France – World Cup 2018 Winners


End of July and two World Cups down, what a year this is turning out to be! Starting with the more recent one, New Zealand men’s and ladies team both took home the butter by winning their respective titles at the Rugby Sevens’ World Cup held in San Francisco’s Bay Area in US.

Analysts had pinned hopes on Fiji or South Africa bringing their circuit experience but that didn’t count for anything. Add Kenya’s showing at the tournament and yes, dismal at its best – seeing as the Shujaa finishing 16th of the 24 teams.

The other more famous tournament is FIFA’s World Cup, this year played in Russia which saw European teams continue their dominance with a 4th win on the trot over the South American and other fancied teams.

This is with the French national team affectionately known as Les Bleus knocking Croatia 4-2 in one of the more entertaining Finals in recent history. Scores of fans across the world have christened this a win for Africa or indeed immigration…that’s not for us to say.

In the same period of the month, I was privileged to attend the third Rugby Conference which brings together stakeholders (sic) in the game of rugby within the country held at the Strathmore University. The theme of the sitting was aptly named ‘The Challenge of Winning’ – as christened by the host sports body Kenya Rugby Union.

This conference came on the back of a successful season 2017-18 for the Union which saw Kenya finish in the top 8 of the rugby series, the Kenyan women’s team win the Rugby Africa tournament, the 15-a-side team inching closer to a World Cup place in 2019 – all well and done for a sports association.

These 3 events got me thinking of what makes a winning combination. Does it come from a strong team riding roughshod over its opponents? Does it come from the scientific approach that have seen technology and other aspects of sports science come into play? Is it sheer luck or hunches by the respective team managers and team leaders?

Let’s take a deep dive:

Talent vs Team

In the now famous 2018 World Cup Final, football purists got their minds warped as the favoured teams started falling out as early as the first round. The Finals had a premiere appearance by the Croatian team. The tournament only one game which went goalless, missing out on the goals scored thanks to the exhausting extra-time games in the knock-out phases.

Many pundits attributed the fall of Argentina, Germany and even African teams on the lack of integration of the wealth of talent into the team structure. To paraphrase renowned management consultant Sunny Bindra in his weekly column, “…to win in football ( or any collective, team-based endeavor), four ingredients are necessary: first, a great ethos and shared sense of purpose; second, a ‘groove’ – a familiar and competent system of play (no matter what it is); third, some outstanding talent in key places; and lastly, great leadership, on and off the playing arena” – article titled Another World Cup; a Familiar Four-factor Theory We Can Apply –  Sunday Nation, 22nd July 2018.

Does this sound like something our teams do often? Does it reflect even both at our team and individual sport (where the ‘larger’ team consists of the coach, physiologist, team manager et al)?

Pre-tournament favourites’ slowly become post-tournament laughing stock. Individuals’ talent becomes anathema as experienced teams fall on the way side.

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

Sports science and Core competencies

Still with the football World Cup, a case has been made as to why it may take African teams longer to ever play or even win the trophy. While we harp on the strength and stamina of many a footballer from Africa, beyond this is a mental and physiological game which is played both on and off the pitch.

In Kenyan rugby scene, we have heard beliefs and whispers of how the game cannot cross to ‘non-traditional players’ from communities without a certain DNA or body stature. It is not for us to determine that here. But if the game of rugby in Kenya is to have a brighter future and pool of talent, this cannot fly.

In today’s sporting world, while the natural talent and flair may count for much, sports science shows that investing in the right nutrition, right training regime, right core competencies and attitude – such investment can go a long way in nurturing and growing nascent talent.

Big Data and Sports

In 2014, when Germany won the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, data analysts and tech enthusiasts were harping on how the use of big data did help it secure the win. All fair and square. What happened in 2018, albeit with even more advancements and appreciated use of data?

Perhaps I should put a disclaimer here, I’m not in any way against the use of data but this cannot be done in a void and is one of the other components needed in a winning team. As part of a winning process, start the use of data to lay a foundation, build upon it and also track performances across all spheres of performance both on and off the pitch.

I’ll take us back to the Rugby Conference where one Paul Odera – head coach of the Under-20s rugby national team gave a thought-provoking presentation on ‘Towards the U-20 World (Championships) – Process then Individuals’. In one part of the presentation, he underscored the use of data to track junior rugby players from the hours of sleep they get, food and nutrition habits, training and conditioning regimes among others.

He indicated this helps his management team understand not just the physical preparedness of the player but also his/her mental and psychological state way before they touch the ball on the pitch. It is instructive that this happens from a very basic level to ensure the team members are able to develop this self-discipline early in their careers.

How many sports teams and individuals are willing to go minutiae for a winning formula?

Sheer hunch or sheer luck?

In the 2018 World Cup Final, a number of football pundits captured on TV went ham on the refereeing decisions made which led to the first and second goals for France. It may or may have contributed to changing the course of the game.

But I usually argue, the opposing team has at least 90 minutes to score any number of goals they may muster. Why do we look for excuses, reasons one or the other as to why teams lose games? What with the Video Assisted-Refereeing making its debut in a major tournament. This will indeed impact the game of football in a big way in the near future.

But then again, to what extent can we attribute the French win to a fortuitous header by a Croatian striker? An innocent spin of the hand by an experienced Croatian defender? We never know what luck the French may have on the day, but they sure did take full advantage of it.

As a sports association, FIFA and the host nation Russia have scored major points with a largely successful tournament. How does FIFA manage to hold us captive every four years? Scoring major sponsorship deals (or partnerships as it were) as well as secure top dollar with TV and media rights in the process.

Why can’t Football Kenya Federation learn a thing or two from the parent association? Having changed its structure and elected officials a few years ago, there is nothing much to write home about. We have had many start-stop attempts at qualifying for continental challenges at a national team level. The consolation is a win of the regional cup CECAFA. Other than that, Harambee Stars has no official sponsor – from shirt, apparel to major endorsements even when a number of players ply their trade in Europe.


In Asia, major countries including China, India and China have made very deliberate efforts to invest in sports. From infrastructure to engaging major sports associations as well as youth programmes to grow different sports disciplines. This goes beyond their traditional sports such as sumo and cricket to mainstream ones in athletics, basketball and football.

We have seen how they have exerted their influence has been with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and FIFA.  In the just concluded World Cup, both Japan and South Korea challenged the top teams and while they may have lost by a goal or on a technicality, the future does look bright.

Major European football clubs have added Asia as a must-stop locale before the start of each season. Whether it is commercializing the various sports properties or bringing the individuals closer to their fans, this is bound to serve as an allure for local leagues and teams.

Add the media investment and audience reach – the Asian audiences have been growing in double digits in the last 5 years. Mix it up with the budding local league scenes and home-grown players and talent pools, it is bound to be a potent combination to a winning strategy.

World Cup 2018 – ‘Best Ever’?

Summary by Richard Wanjohi and SK’s armchair analysts.

Oh how time flies when you’re having fun…that’s the feeling with the last game of the 2018 World Cup. Croatia coming undone by their own little errors and hasty referee decisions, Le Bleus finding glory after 20 years to get their second star on their jerseys and for both Luka Modric and Kylian Mbappe to claim individual honours for sterling performances.

Kylian Mbappe - Image courtesy of Getty Images
Kylian Mbappe – Image courtesy of Getty Images

Pundits have claimed this to be the ‘best World Cup’ in recent history or was it?



First things first. It was a World Cup of a number of firsts including;

  1. Video Assisted Refereeing (VAR) – the second or third eye, depending on how you’d want to look at it, became a phenomenon for the first time on a global scale. With the teething problems expected, every player and manager started insisting on using this even when it did not warrant. What was interesting though is while there were a number of penalty-kicks given, the supposed culprits were mostly not punished or it went unnoticed. It is important to note the VAR was initiated to help make decisions on penalties, red cards or mistaken identity.

22 penalties were scored out of 29 awarded, the highest-ever scored in a World Cup. Did VAR affect this?

  1. 4th Substitute – this was the case for the games that spilled over to the extra-time period. This was brought about seeking to give teams the oomph and urge to win the game in extra time and where this did not happen, seek to replace one goalkeeper with a more experienced penalty-stopper.

Of 6 games that went into extra-time, only 1 was won within this period. The other 5 went into the dreaded penalty kicks. Maybe it’s time for a return to Golden Goal rule?

  1. First held in Eastern Europe (and 2 Continents) – thanks to the expansive land that is Russia. The tournament spread across the country that could easily call Europe and Asia its home. Does that qualify it as the first to be held on two different continents?
  2. Fair Play to decide qualification – for the uninitiated, FIFA introduced a Fair Play method which sees teams try not accumulate yellow and red cards which cost them in later stages. This was the case for Senegal which saw them miss qualification with Japan taking its place after they tied on points and goal difference.

Group Stages and Round of 16:

The tournament kicked off with the hosts Russia taking on Saudi Arabia as a team with a mission. Off the blocks with 5-0 win meant it would see a good number of goals. The hosts held good spirit to advance to the knock-out stages.

African teams would find it hard done not to have a qualifying team – albeit the Senegalese losing on a Fair Play technicality.  The favoured teams such as Nigeria and Egypt left it too late to make an impact in the tournament.

Asian teams also found the going tough with only Japan moving to the knock-out phases – and lose to semi-finalists and 3rd– placed Belgium.

Germany continued the ignominy of immediate previous winners being eliminated in the first round – following in the footsteps of France in 2002, Italy in 2010 and Spain in 2014. Champions curse?

As it were Europe carried the day with 10/16 teams in the knock-out round of 16.  South America had 5 and Asia 1.

Then there were 8-4-2: Quarter-Finals, Semis and Finals

Europe once again carried the day with 6/8 team playing out in the quarter-finals. Some argued the weather being a factor, others blamed it on the exhausting European leagues. Whatever they chose, this was surely taking a Eurocentric twist.

Russia had continued with their fairy tale chase of honours which were halted by eventual finalists and 2nd –placed Croatia in a cracker of a match. Favoured teams in Brazil and Uruguay were hastily shown the door.

The semis looked in both games as final-before-finals as France battled fellow-French speaking Belgium and Croatia sought to ride the English 3-lions into the finals. Pundits and TV rights holders would have loved a French-English Final but the Croats had other ideas.

The Final was a first for Croatia while it was the third appearance for the French. The latter having won 1998 and lost in 2006 came with their tails wagging. Croatia on the other hand were novices in this space and it showed in conceding fouls which eventually cost them the game. Their comeback wings were clipped even before launching by FIFA Young Player of the Tournament – Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and an own goal by Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic who later scored Croatia’s second – earning the infamy of scoring on both ends of the goals in a Final.

Final Score: France 4 – Croatia 2.

France - World Cup 2018 Winners
France – World Cup 2018 Winners

Awards & Quick Numbers:

  • Luka Modric (Croatia) – Player of the Tournament (Golden Ball Award)
  • Kylian Mbappe (France) – Young Player of the Tournament
  • Harry Kane (England) – Highest Number of Goals Scored (Golden Boot) – 6 Goals
  • Thibaut Courtois (Belgium) – Most Saves 27 – Goalkeeper of the Tournament
  • Ivan Perisic (Croatia) – Most Distance Covered – 72 kms
  • Sergio Ramos (Spain) – Most Passes – 485
  • Neymar (Brazil) – Most Attempts – 27
  • 169:- Total number of Goals Scored; (including 12 own-goals the highest-ever);
  • 4:- Red Cards (one of the lowest in recent history)
  • $ 38 Million for the World Cup Winners – France; $ 28 Million for 2nd Place – Croatia and $24 mill for 3rd place
  • $791 Million – Total Prize Money paid out by FIFA in the 2018 World Cup

Our Top 5 Goals of the Tournament:

  1. Ricardo Quaresma (Portugal vs Iran)
  2. Denis Cheryshev ( Russia vs Croatia)
  3. Benjamin Pavard ( France vs Argentina)
  4. Philippe Coutinho ( Brazil vs Switzerland)
  5. Musa Idriss ( 1st goal – Nigeria vs Iceland)

Top 5 Brands:

FIFA - Brand Partners and Sponsors - Image courtesy of
FIFA – Brand Partners and Sponsors – Image courtesy of
  1. Nike – with at least 3 of the top 4 teams being in their stable, the biggest coup would appear to be Nigeria’s shirt design which sold out minutes after being officially released.
  2. Adidas – seems odd that the competing apparel brands should be in the top 5 but yes Adidas did have a few wins with the less sponsorship deals and Telcra ball design.
  3. Hisense – it may have come in for some poor showing in this part of the world, but it resonated well with its audiences on social media platforms and activations. Let’s see what numbers it makes in the next few years.
  4. Budweiser – being the only other drink sponsor of the World Cup, it had some work to do playing catch up with Coke. It did deliver some interesting campaigns and has been having positive conversations online.
  5. CocaCola – for a brand synonymous with the World Cup, they’ve not let their guard and slept on the job. They keep challenging other sponsoring brands on how best to leverage their sponsorship deals.



Figures from ; additional info from and and Twitter account @Sporf

World Cup 2018 – Ambush Marketing or Shrewd Placement?

The FIFA World Cup 2018 is coming to the tail end of this 4-year ritual. With the semis underway and the Final game coming on 15th July, this has been a World Cup of both pleasant and unpleasant surprises depending on which team or player you support. The same can be said of the marketing campaigns and brands associated with the prestigious event.

FIFA has an elaborate marketing division which over the years has sought to partner with major brands across the globe. This is to enable them reach the wider audiences as well as enrich existing ones. These partners also serve as sponsors of FIFA’s multiple events with the most prestigious being the World Cup. The multi-tier system has 3 layers – FIFA Partners, FIFA World Cup Sponsors and National Supporters. Among the Partners, the most recognisable is Coca-Cola who’ve managed to maintain a lead over all other partners with the Coca-Cola World Cup Trophy Tour. Adidas sportswear has also maintained a stronghold for on-the-pitch action being the Official Ball sponsors since 1970.

This year though some of the partners have had a mixed performance on their visibility and marketing communication. From our own analysis, the most visible to the least one comes as follows;

  1. Coca-Cola – with its various communications either targeting local/regional audiences and also for the global campaign. Having had a head start with the World Cup Trophy Tour, the brand has its strategy on-point and visible across all platforms – both online and offline. See it’s YouTube ad for Nigeria/West Africa here.
  2. adidas – being one of the other brand associated with the World Cup, the brand has both on-the-pitch advantage and off-the-pitch communication. Every tournament has a new ball designed for use for the tournament.
    adidas' Telstar 18 - Image courtesy of FIFA
    adidas’ Telstar 18 – Image courtesy of FIFA

    This year’s ball ‘Adidas Telstar 18‘ has a futuristic look and feel to enable viewers see the ball as they watched and also equipped with aerodynamics for playing pleasure. In some cases, it has a chip installed ‘to access content and information that is unique to that ball, personalized and localized, providing the consumer with interactivity‘. The digital campaign was equally impressive and incorporated not just footballing greats but other sporting heroes such as tennis champion Caroline Wozniacki; NBA star Damian Lillard; skateboarder Nora Vasconcellos as well as music producer extraordinaire Pharell Williams. Here’s a sneak peek.

  3.  Visa International – the brand had an interesting campaign for the pre-World Cup period where holders and users of Visa cards were eligible to win an all-expenses paid trip to Russia. However the marketing honchos went on a trajectory choosing Zlatan Ibrahimovich as the brand ambassador for this year’s campaign. While his country Sweden qualified for the event and even went as far as the quarters, it’s strange to choose a player who would not be present at the World Cup.  Others may point to the fact that bookings and payment at the event in Russia were made mainly using Visa, the campaigns gave a mixed bag of communication to its target audience. See the ad here – ‘Don’t Miss a Goal

In our local scene, Kenyan companies went creative with their campaigns most if not all looking to cash in on the World Cup communication. Here are some of the most interesting ones;

  1. Safaricom – with its mix of GIGA Football Pass and association with Kwese Sports and iflix, the telco got it spot-on with the campaign that almost makes it synonymous with the World Cup. This particular campaign has been consistent across all platforms – from online to offline, radio and TV ads. Good one!

    Kwese-iFlix streams - image courtesy of
    Kwese-iFlix streams – image courtesy of
  2. Uber – sprinkled around the city are strategically placed billboards prompting commuters the need to use the mobility app instead of driving their own vehicles. One interesting piece goes something like, ‘Make it Safely through the quarters, semis and final. Don’t drink and drive’. Simple, effective and concise.
  3. Sony – having been trumped by Chinese electronics maker Hisense for the 2018 World Cup, the Korean-based brand did its bit of seeking to attract consumers to purchase its brands. Armed with bold and elaborate images on their billboards as well as discounted offers, the brand still remains among top of mind TV brands for a big screen or any screen for that matter.

Critics may say that brands have taken advantage and ‘ambushed’ their target customers. Football brand critics may argue too that such major brands ought to pay up for the right to use some of the images or association with the World Cup – tough nut to crack. Whatever marketing communication and messaging that has been screened, broadcast or shared with audiences across the world, the World Cup has truly been memorable for us.

Elgon Cup: Kenya hopes to finish off Uganda

2018 is slowly becoming a semi-renaissance year for the rugby game in Kenya. This weekend the Kenya 15s team better known as the Simbas face off with their Ugandan counterparts for the famous Elgon Cup. The trophy aptly named after the mountain peak found on the border of the two nations – Kenya and Uganda has been a mainstay for the healthy rivalry between the neighbors.

Elgon Cup - Image courtesy of
Elgon Cup – Image courtesy of

Having skipped the 2017 one due to the Kenyan elections, both sides are preparing to have a go at each other.
It doesn’t get any better this time with the team coming good after recording victory in the first half of the two-game clash. Both teams have also called on some of their 7s players to provide some pace and experience to the 15-a-side team to gain whatever extra edge they can. These include former 7s players Felix Ayange and Biko Adema with the former being handed his first test cap. Uganda welcomes their talisman Philip Wokorach who plays in the shorter version of the game but proved to be as valuable in the 2016 Elgon Cup, first leg in Kampala’s Kyadondo Grounds.
Triumphs over Morocco and Zimbabwe also curries the flavor to the return leg in Nairobi. What’s more the game will be used as preparations for the Africa Gold Cup where second-tier teams including Namibia, Tunisia, Zimbabwe and Kenya.
Pride and bragging rights are of course at stake given the storied past of the two countries – from politicos like the Migingo Island controversy to concerns over which team’s closest to qualifying for the prestigious Rugby World Cup in 2019. Pay and management issues aside, let’s look forward to an entertaining game at the RFUEA Grounds on 7th July from 1500hours.
For those not able to make it, the game will be screened live on Kwese Sports TV – as well as it’s Facebook and YouTube channels.

World Cup 2018 – 1st Round – 5 of Our Best Moments

By Richard Wanjohi

29th June 2018 , two weeks and the World Cup’s biggest extravaganza takes it’s first break as it gets to the knock-out round. Funny how time flies fast when you’re having fun. It’s been a flurry of action, emotions, disappointment and triumph depending on where your interests lie.

As promised, we’ll look at the 5 best moments so far from the World Cup action in Russia thus far. Let’s get kickin’;

  1. Senegal’s 2-1 win over Poland (Group H): Being only their second World Cup, Senegal came into this with a steely determination to prove they are no mere walkovers. In 2002, they started with the famous win over France.
    Senegal’s Aliou Cisse shows us why they are the Lions of Teranga

    In 2018, Poland was more fancied and at worst, the game was likely to be a draw. The Lions of Teranga had other ideas – even with the contentious second goal that the Polish team bitterly complained about.

  2. South Korea’s win 2-0 over Germany in Group F: South Korea qualified for the 2018 WC for the 9th consecutive time. They have been one of the hardest working teams with the players showing a rare work rate and runs all over the pitch. As Manuel Neuer of Germany who made the mistake of chasing a goal for Germany only to leave an empty net for Son Heung-Min. That the Koreans were already on their way out but still found the strength to score 2 goals in added/injury time speaks volumes. Germany continued ignominy of defending World Cup champions eliminated in the first round ( joining Spain from 2014, Italy in 2010 and France in 2002).
  3. Portugal and Spain’s 3-3 draw in Group B: Being among the first games of the championship, there was huge expectation of a tough game for both European foes. With the current European champions Portugal facing the immediate former European champs Spain, it was a goal fest and sight to see. Helped in part by goalkeeping errors and the work ethic of top strikers Diego Costa (Spain) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) it did live up to its billing. Spain had just sacked their immediate coach and Fernando Hierro took over a team even before kicking the ball – talk of baptism by fire.
    SOCHI, RUSSIA - JUNE 15:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal scores a free-kick for his team's third goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Portugal and Spain at Fisht Stadium on June 15, 2018 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
    SOCHI, RUSSIA – JUNE 15: Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal scores a free-kick for his team’s third goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Portugal and Spain at Fisht Stadium on June 15, 2018 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

    On other hand, Cristiano Ronaldo has won scored many goals and won many trophies , is it his time to pick up the world’s most recognizable one?

  4. Iceland’s 1-1 draw with Argentina (Group D):

    The Nordic state of Iceland qualified for the 2018 World Cup as one of two first-timers for the edifice. Coming up against one of the most formidable teams, favourites and 2014 finalists, Argentina seemed like an overkill for the Icelanders. Argentina’s strike force is any coach’s envy but this did not overawe the smallest state participating. To hold them to a single goal helped keep the folklore of their journey into the championship. They have one of the best fan base and who doesn’t love the viking chant, too bad they left us at the Group stages…

  5. Russia’s 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia in Group A: Hosting an event of such magnitude is no mean feat. Coming into the championship as dark, dark horses is also not easy – your own President doesn’t have much hope in your abilities and potent. Opening the games, two substitutes later and voila! Even the loudest of critiques swallow their words. Will they settle for 2nd as Sweden did in 1958 while hosting the event? In 1978 Argentina hosted and won the World Cup. In 1998 France hosted the championships and presto won it for the first time, twenty-years on, is this Russia’s time?

1st of July, the knock-out phase OR Round of 16 starts…may the best team(s) win!


TV Rights – Effects on Sports Broadcasting in Africa

By Richard Wanjohi

In a few weeks, the world will has come to a standstill as sport’s biggest extravaganza kicks off in Russia. An estimated 1.2 billion eyeballs will be glued to their screens for the month-long festival of the football game.

Be it at home, the local restaurant or pub, Fan Park or common area screen; a large majority of the audience will catch the matches on TV. While we appreciate the fast-changing media landscape across the world, TV still remains king in attracting and keeping audiences – more so in game of football. Sports events around the world ignite passions and emotions on fans religiously following them. This becomes even more dramatic for live events. In fact, majority of fans would prefer to catch their favorite game or actions live – this with the multi-levels of delivery and platforms – from online streaming to live reporting.

Image courtesy of EPL
Image courtesy of EPL

In our parts of the world, the realization of sports broadcast and the impact of TV rights is finally dawning on us. From the sports federations owning different properties and propping them for the various media partners to fans who love their action as and where they need it. With the increasingly affordable mobile devices and connectivity, the power of more than one screen has become a reality sooner rather than later in developing economies such as Africa’s. In this discourse though, I’ll seek to indulge you on some of the major milestones to look out for on TV rights in sports across the history of sport.

History of TV Screening in Sport

To help us understand TV rights, it would be important to understand what it means. TV rights include all copyright and related rights to televise a match or game. This is particularly to broadcasting organizations – media and TV organizations – which pay huge sums of money for the exclusive right to broadcast sports events live.

We’ve heard of one or the other local TV station calling itself the ‘official TV station for the World Cup’ or ‘official broadcast partner for the Olympics’. They usually do this after paying the rights to a third party which usually acquires these from the media partners of respective sports organizations. Historically, sports appeared on TV as early as the 1930s in Europe with a broadcast of the Olympics Games in Germany. Though limited to a small audience of viewers who owned the prized silver screen then, it formed the basis of one of the best commercial aspects to impact sport.

Images courtesy
Images courtesy

In the US, live screening of TV of college baseball in the same decade. Live sports at a nationwide – coast-to-coast level only came in 1951 with the show of an American Football college game. In this market these two sports disciplines would form a breeding ground for future developments in live sports and its interaction with TV and its varied audiences. The rest of the world and more so Africa would have to wait until the late 1960s and 70s for their first live sports action on TV. This was in the Olympics in 1964 at Tokyo as well as World Cup in England in 1966. Back then, much of TV viewing was handed to the national broadcasters as they would be the only ones with such infrastructure. This would continue up until the 1990s when TV rights would become fully commercialized.

Origins of TV Screening and Commercialization into TV rights

Commercialization of TV rights started in England’s football league when the then Football Association (FA) management unveiled a blueprint for the Future of Football. The document detailed among others to professionalize the soon-to-be Premier League. Broadcasts on satellite and cable TV would be what prompted fast-tracking of the formation of the League with the promise of a bounty of revenue for participating teams.

Though initially targeting football, sale of rights in England would then include cricket and rugby.

In US, the sale of TV rights had been pursued in the 1980s and 90s with major sports bodies in basketball, football and hockey looking to fully commercialize screening. This include major events such as NBA’s All Star Weekend and football’s Super Bowl – one of sports’ biggest event viewed at a single sitting.

Back to England, the best model of TV rights was introduced during the launch of Sky TV which happened in 1991 but had to wait until a year later. In 1992, Sky won a five-year deal to screen live Premier League games at $409.5 million beating BBC (which got the rights to screen highlights, packaged in the Match of the Day format). The third competitor for the TV rights bid, ITV lost out entirely. While ITV may have seemingly looked to have lost out on the local English scene, it did win the rights to UEFA Champions League in 1999.

The developments in England formed a basis for many other sports developments across the continent. It did help both participating clubs and associations to mine major revenues on the TV rights alone. From a fair amount of 10-15%, current estimates put the revenue from TV rights at between 30-40% for clubs across Europe and Americas.

It has been a bone of contention in more advanced sports properties such as US basketball scene where players have engaged in wages and salaries sit-outs due to their perceived exploitation by team owners. The latter have had to work out tough measures to ensure worthy TV earnings, which the former feel a entitled to being the main actors on the court.

Image courtesy of
EPL TV Rights for the Rest of the World – Image courtesy of

Major TV Rights Deals

What are some of the major sports TV rights deals of our day? We’ll review 3 of the biggest sports deals in the world including;

  1. National Football League (NFL) from the US – this deal is worth $39.6 billion having been signed for a 9-year period. Each year’s worth is $4.5 billion of payments for the four US networks who signed including CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN. Does this give credence to why Super Bowl is what it is? See more details here.
  2. National Basketball Association (NBA) – US – $24 billion deal signed by ESPN and TNT from 2016 – 2025. This is split at $2.6 billion from the two major US sports networks. See details.
  3. Premier League – UK – this is worth approx. $ 7 billion where two TV networks Sky and BT signed a 3-year from 2016 – 2019. This is at a $2.3 billion per years’ worth of monies. Perhaps this is the one that most sports fans from this part of the world can identify with. See more details here.

Other major deals include

  • Baseball’s $12.2 billion 9-year deal;
  • Football’s Italian league’s Serie A $ 3.4 billion 3-year deal; and
  • German’s league (Bundesliga) $ 5.5 billion 4-year deal.

World Cup TV Rights

Joining the bandwagon of the TV rights, the world’s biggest game started off by screening the games in 1954. In 1966 the World Cup games were broadcast for the first time to a world audience across all continents. This would continue until the late 1990s and early 2000s when media companies sought to compete for the rights to the 1-month extravaganza.

With the transition of broadcasting from terrestrial and satellite to digital signals, there was a change in consumption of media content even for live sports actions. The World Cup was no exception and the effect has been gradual. In 2018 and for us in Kenya, there will be 2 ways of catching your favorite team at the World Cup – the FTA (free-to-air channels) and pay TV. The FTAs will screen thirty-two (32) games out of the sixty-four (64) – which will all be shown on pay TV. This means your typical football fan may not be able to catch the action on the national broadcasts.

(list of FTA’s in Kenya)

Effects of TV Rights on Sport

The biggest impact of TV rights has been providing alternative revenue channels to both sports federations and clubs. This has been growing phenomenally over the period of twenty years making sports properties some of the most valuable across the world.

Another impact is advancement in the media space. Due to competition to have a unique offering to each of the audiences in the different platforms, this has been a boon in advancements and new technologies in sports coverage.

There is a mixed feeling as to the effects on audiences – where some may argue a wider reach of audiences on the different platforms, others may say a decline in viewers due to reduced terrestrial reach on traditional TV. The jury’s still out there on this.

To some extent, due to the high revenues realized from sale of TV rights, players are now able to command high wages and pay from their respective clubs. While it may border on the obscene to some, the potent of merging brands and media to sell these to audiences above, the pay is well worth it to the participants.

Overall TV rights have ensured that broadcasters and media companies have continually sought to grow their offering. With this it has meant developing partnerships and alliances to capture the best and valued sports properties.

Enjoy your favorite games in the upcoming World Cup from whichever channel it maybe. I’d hope TV rights and the whole space make more sense to you now!