This weekend, the 2021/22 FKF Premier League kicks off with a slate of tasty match-ups lined up. However, for the league’s 18 clubs and fans of Kenyan football in general, the outlook isn’t so rosy.
The league’s main sponsors, Betking, announced the termination of their Ksh1.2 billion title sponsorship of the FKF PL in August after only one season. This week, the sponsors of the FKF County Leagues, Odibets, also had their agreement with FKF terminated.
Without the sponsorships, teams in the top-flight league and at the grassroots lose out on one of their most important revenue streams – monthly grants. At present, the FKF PL’s only sponsors are pay TV company Startimes in their capacity as TV broadcast rights-owners and Milele FM for Radio.
FKF itself made clear the implication of the loss of Betking as a title sponsors when it disbursed monthly grants for August 2021, informing clubs to brace for tougher times.
“Moving forward, following the withdrawal of the top league’s title partner, FKF has agreed with the clubs to review downwards the monthly grants, up until when the Federation will secure partners other than its broadcast and radio partner.” the federation noted.
Coupled with the fact that fans are still barred from accessing sporting venues due to Covid-19, it looks set to be another difficult season for many Kenyan clubs on the financial front. Many clubs, particularly community clubs, depend on ticket sales during home games to sustain themselves. Fans have been pushing to be allowed back into the stadiums to no avail.
Headlines on clubs struggling financially, failing to pay their players and struggling to travel for matches haven’t been uncommon in the past few seasons.
The exit of betting firm Sportpesa as the league’s title sponsor in 2019, and that of broadcast giant Supersport (owned by Multichoice) in 2017 notably dented the league’s prospects.
The entry of Betking as title sponsors for the 2021/22 season came as a sigh of relief, as was Startimes’ entry as the league’s new broadcast partner. Other partners including Betika also entered the fray, sponsoring the lower-tier National Super League (NSL).
The new season starts against the backdrop of battles involving FKF and its President Nick Mwendwa, a section of fans opposed to him and the country’s two biggest clubs – Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards.
Towards the end of last season, Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards failed to honor a league derby in protest, accusing FKF of failing to pay them their prize money after they reached the finals of the FKF Betway Cup.
Mwendwa responded by docking both teams three points and hitting them with fines totaling Ksh10 million.
If the rumour mill is to be believed, NSL title sponsors Betika are among frontrunners to take Betking’s place as title sponsors for the FKF PL.
Clubs and fans, however, simply hope that sustainable, rewarding partnerships can be established to support the growth of Kenyan football and maximize its potential.