Khoza talks PSL sponsorship, issues facing league

The PSL has grown into a big brand
The PSL has grown into a big brand

The PSL has signed a new five-year sponsorship deal with MTN and the Absa Premiership kicks off the league’s 30th season on Tuesday. S’Busiso Mseleku sits down with PSL chairperson Irvin Khoza to look at these and other issues

Challenges going forward

We are faced with a number of challenges going forward. First, we need to look at pertinent issues such as:

  • How to deal with digital migration as more and more content becomes available online for free. The PSL needs to sustain and increase its revenue, even under these conditions;
  • Tackle the artificial economy that we as clubs have created through exorbitant transfer fees;
  • Ensure that we remain relevant to the sponsors;
  • Maintain the excitement generated by football;
  • Be aware that while we are a football body, what we are selling are the discussions generated from the game. So we need to tap into money generated through social-media platforms and ensure that there are always interesting discussions around soccer;
  • Sustain the feel-good factor brought about by soccer;
  • Ensure that the PSL remains the biggest contributor to the country’s happiness index as it is right now;
  • Fully explore the potential of female participation in football from players, officials and administrators. Women are by nature good managers, organisers and they are loyal. They set the tone and agenda in many spheres of life.

Mato Madlala, Ria Ledwaba and Anastasia Tsichlas are good examples. Madlala [acting PSL CEO] is not in that position due to empowerment, but on merit. There are many other young, up-and-coming women at different levels of soccer administration.”

MTN’s five-year extension of its sponsorship

MTN’s extension of its sponsorship is a great vote of confidence in our brand in such a trying economic climate.

We know that, going forward, sponsors will not only be looking at naming rights, but how the product impacts on the bottom line as this is a business transaction.

Football is viable because it is the only brand whose consumers cut across all LSMs [living standards measure] and that makes it a rare property.

Looking back

The year 1985 was pivotal for professional football in this country. It was then that clubs realised their potential to become viable businesses. This resulted in them approaching the mother body, Sanfa [SA National Football Association] with a view that the National Professional Soccer League be seceded and become an autonomous professional wing.

Sanfa’s resistance led to the formation of the NSL [National Soccer League], followed by the formation of Sasa (SA Soccer Association) as a mother body.

The aim was to separate amateur and professional football as this created divided attention, which affected the club’s potential of generating more revenue.

This was the biggest milestone for professional soccer in this country.

Then the birth of the PSL in 1996 came about as we saw a need to reposition the NSL to bring it in line with the changing world.

At that time, Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs were too dominant and that affected the unpredictability of the game, which is a vital ingredient in football.

This is what makes football the opium of the masses.

We decided to repackage our product by creating an environment where about six to seven clubs competed for honours.

There was also a need to ensure that clubs became airborne, were able to sign top players, sustain their stipends as well as have well-functioning offices.

We reduced the league from 18 to 16 clubs.

The repackaging allowed us to sell our new vision to sponsors and thus managed to grow our revenue from R7 million to R22 million, which, in turn, enabled us to give each club a R1 million annual grant.

This has today grown to R1.5 million per month.

We took this vision to the SABC and I must thank Irfan Bux, who was the head then, and understood our vision as well as how partnering with the PSL would benefit his organisation by increasing viewership.

Excitement levels increased, but unfortunately we did not plan well for the next round of negotiations.

Our ill-prepared team was outwitted by the smart Mvuzo Mbebe in 2002 and our rights were undersold.

But we were well-prepared for the next round of negotiations for the 2006 contract and went in with a watertight contract.

One of the loopholes of the contract signed in 2002 was that it gave the SABC the first right to refuse and the last right to match any offer.

We kept the negotiations under wraps while biding our time and deliberately allowed the contract to lapse – this was a period that taught me a great deal about the power of silence.

The PSL then put the broadcast deal out to tender and this is how it ended up with SuperSport in 2006 [for a reported R1 billion], which allowed us to increase clubs’ monthly grants dramatically.

Match-fixing

This is a serious scourge. But as the PSL, it is very important that we not become a victim of our own success. The PSL is a target as our fixtures are organised in such a fashion that they start on time and are televised live. This creates fertile ground for betting houses and match-fixers.

Fortunately, Fifa has given us an easy system of spotting early signs of illegal betting and potential match-fixing.

We are busy tightening our protection systems against the illegal use of our fixtures as we own the copyright to the fixtures.

We are also formulating a policy around the use of our fixtures as we are aware that there are betting houses and people who are still illegally betting on our fixtures.

Parting shot

For the PSL to remain sustainable, it is very important to sustain and maintain the excitement.

I must congratulate Chiefs and Pirates for maintaining this not only through the Soweto Derby, but by participating in off-season tournaments such as the Carling Black Label Cup, the Macufe Cup and the Bokone-Bophirima Maize Cup – I have noticed the hangover people suffer when there is no soccer.

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