Collapse of SuperSport deal leaves more questions than answers
By Robson Sharuko
Harare – Zimbabwean Premiership clubs’ landmark decision to force a divorce from their six-year relationship with SuperSport is being hailed by some analysts as the dawn of a new era in Africa in which football teams can now flex their muscles against the continent’s dominant pay-per-view television broadcasting giant.
The Zimbabwean top-flight clubs voted overwhelmingly to detach themselves from the chains of their relationship with SuperSport, which started in 2011 amid hopes that it was a game-changer for football in the country.
There were high hopes that money from the television broadcasting giant would flow into the coffers of the clubs – most of which have been struggling just to stay afloat – and transform them into profitable entities.
The domestic clubs had watched from a distance as the same television money transformed the financial muscles of their South African counterparts enabling them to acquire players from across the continent.
A number of top Zimbabwean players have been lured by the good money, which the South African clubs can pay them triggering an exodus of some of the finest talents from the country to teams across the Limpopo.
Interestingly, a modest South African club like Ajax Cape Town, which barely attracts 2,000 fans at its home matches, can afford to acquire the services of highly-rated Zimbabwe international Gerald Takwara from the country’s richest football club FC Platinum.
The defensive midfielder was one of the standout players for the Zimbabwe national football team, the Warriors, at last year’s COSAFA Senior Challenge Cup in South Africa and helped them get crowned as the champions of Southern African football in style with a 3-1 demolition of Zambia in the final.
Another Zimbabwean star of that tournament, speedy winger Talent Chawapihwa, had already been lured away from FC Platinum to join another modest South African club Baroka FC where he has since established himself as a regular in the side.
Ocean Mushure, the inspirational captain of Zimbabwe’s biggest and most successful football club, Dynamos, has been linked to a number of South African sides after a starring role at the same COSAFA Cup tournament.
If they have not been trekking to South Africa, the best of the Zimbabwean players have been moving to Tanzania where clubs in that country, boosted by their financial muscles, have been on a spending spree in getting some exciting foreign talent.
This has left the Zimbabwean league short on real talent and this has seen a considerable drop in attendance figures with fans choosing to stay home rather than watch mediocre players.
“There were high expectations that the coming on board of SuperSport was a game-changer because the money would flow into the clubs and they would have the ability to retain some of our best talent,” football agent Kudzi Shaba told The Southern Times.
“Of course, this didn’t happen for six years for one reason or another and we didn’t see the projected improvement in the financial affairs of the local clubs.
“We kept losing some of our best players across the continent and it was as if nothing had changed and this television deal had not been secured in the first place.
“People began to ask questions as to what was really going on and there were a lot of theories that were provided as answers and the more that the situation didn’t change the more it became clear that something would have to change.
“Matters came to a head when the Premiership clubs met at their last meeting and decided they should look elsewhere in terms of bettering their lot because they had not received a fair share of their bargain.”
But how much were the Zimbabwean clubs getting from the television deal?
It is an area that has always been shrouded in secrecy with some saying the clubs received as low as US$4,000 per year while others said they got US$15,000 a year.
With a club like CAPS United running a monthly budget of US$40,000 to cover their costs, the income from the television deal was deemed grossly inadequate.
“The point is that the more local matches were shown on television, the fewer the people who came to the stadiums to watch the games and this was a loss of revenue for the clubs,” said Shaba.
“It’s okay when that loss is compensated by revenue generated from the television deal but this was not the case here in Zimbabwe.
“The deal became a curse rather than a blessing to the clubs and many of them felt that it wasn’t benefiting them and it had to be cancelled.”
The situation was not helped by the secrecy surrounding the entire deal with the league’s leadership refusing to avail the details of their agreement to the clubs or the local media.
The league leaders said they were bound by a confidentiality clause in the agreement, which made it unlawful for them to reveal the details of their deal to the public.
This has led to speculation that the league leaders might have reaped more than the clubs when they put pen to paper to authorise this deal six years ago.
Reports have always been rife that an unnamed South African agent was introduced to the deal at the last minute of the negotiations and he pocketed about US$300,000.
Some say the money ended up being shared among those who made the deal possible and the ZIFA leadership under Philip Chiyangwa has been trying to find out if this really happened.
“Some SuperSport officials and some Zimbabwean officials got more than the clubs,” an international sports agent, who claimed he was elbowed at the last minute from the negotiations, told The Southern Times.
“I was pushing for the more than US$800,000 a year that Zambia got initially.
“I heard the Zimbabwean clubs got US$400,000 a year. There were too many secrets. All this deal did was to allow SuperSport bosses to get budgets to release money to give themselves.
“Nobody outside their circle knows how much the league got and how much was availed to production.
“We only heard that each HD OB van cost millions. The crews received very good pay and some were even flown from South Africa every week.
“If clubs in Zimbabwe and Kenya got even R500,000 a month the clubs would have pushed for a renewal of the contracts.”