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Fufa-StarTimes deal welcome, but it would have been better

On August 9, Fufa and StarTimes signed a ground-breaking deal to sponsor league football. The 10-year package worth $7.2m (about Shs 27bn) is the biggest ever in Ugandan sport.

On paper, the deal comes off as a coup for Fufa and a relief for domestic clubs after weeks of uncertainty when it became apparent that Fufa’s three-year $3m deal with Sports Broadcasting, which was signed in January, had fallen through.

There was something fishy about the Sports Broadcasting deal from the onset that makes me wonder whether Fufa did enough due diligence. As it turns out, the federation didn’t. Otherwise, there would have been phased commitments and a timeline of progress.

How could a company without any prior broadcasting work or anything to show for convince Fufa they have the capacity to take over the rights?

Fufa and StarTimes officials at the signing of the 10-year Shs 27bn deal

Without trying to be diversionary, I believe Fufa owes football stakeholders an explanation on how that deal collapsed. Did the company run bankrupt? Did it underestimate the task at hand? Or were there unforeseen challenges?

At what point did Fufa realise it was not going to work out? Those questions would provide key lessons for anyone involved in the game.

There is a popular view that the company was just a mere speculator who bought the rights to vend to the highest bidder. In fact, it is possible StarTimes bought them off in order to secure the deal.

The fact that Fufa and Sports Broadcasting mutually agreed to terminate the deal without any penalties for breach of contract speaks volumes of possible collusion and perhaps conflict of interest on the part of those involved.

Now that StarTimes has come on board, there are no doubts about its potential. It has a huge following and has been tried and tested in Uganda. More importantly, it has already shown its interest in football with sponsorships to KCCA and, most recently, SC Villa.

I believe it has what it takes to take Ugandan football to the next level. My major concern, though, is how that contract was reached at and the manner in which it was presented.

Whereas I understand that Fufa had to rush to clear the air of pensiveness that was gathering among clubs and fans, the federation should at least have come out with some details of the deal instead of a blanket statement of agreement. 

Meanwhile, I’m reliably informed that Fufa did not turn to StarTimes as a last resort and talks have been ongoing for weeks, possibly months. 

On that backdrop, Shs 27bn is good money any day but Fufa ought to have negotiated a better deal, especially if I’m to believe the recent activity report Fufa boss Moses Magogo presented at a forum for past leaders.

He painted a glowing state of affairs and, indeed, there has been tremendous progress in professionalising of Ugandan football. There is every sign that the sport is growing, especially from the commercial aspect.

If that is the case, how would the federation settle for a figure that is just a slight upgrade on the much-maligned deal they signed with Azam at $1.9m for three-and-a-half years? Of that figure, Fufa will be receiving $600,000 (about Shs 2.2bn) cash annually. Azam, on the other hand, offered $500,000 (1.8bn).

The most baffling aspect in all this is the 10-year period. This is more like a lease of sorts. FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi is a marriage made in heaven but both parties could never sign a 10-year deal. So, did Fufa underestimate its brand and value? Why lock out the space for any possible sponsor?

Does the current Fufa leadership believe Ugandan football is going to be at the same commercial level for 10 years?

There is a sense of selfishness here and I cannot fault StarTimes for driving a hard bargain. So, either Fufa was desperate to take whatever came by or StarTimes has superb negotiators.

I have also wondered why Fufa doesn’t carry out an open bidding process for such key rights, the way top professional leagues do?

Going forward, I wonder whether we are learning anything from the previous botched deals in Ugandan football.

bzziwa@observer.ug

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