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South Africa and England premier leagues wanted to run a ‘booming’ Kenyan Premier League

TOP: Gor Mahia (centre) fight to shrug off Vihiga United in their Football Kenya Federation Premier League (FKFPL) in which the defending Kenya champions lost 0-1 to Vihiga at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani in Nairobi on January 23. ABOVE: Ali Bhai of Kakamega Homeboyz leads celebration after scoring in their 2-0 winners over Bidco at Bukhungu Stadium, Kakamega on January 24. Pics/Courtesy BETKING

TOP: Gor Mahia (centre) fight to shrug off Vihiga United in their Football Kenya Federation Premier League (FKFPL) in which the defending Kenya champions lost 0-1 to Vihiga at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani in Nairobi on January 23. ABOVE: Ali Bhai of Kakamega Homeboyz leads celebration after scoring in their 2-0 winners over Bidco at Bukhungu Stadium, Kakamega on January 24. Pics/Courtesy BETKING

DID Kenya media and football followers know that two major world football leagues once competed to acquire and run a Kenyan league for profit?

A confident Kenyan Premier League (KPL) outfit, in the end attracted their own rich sponsor, signing a broadcasting partnership that would see a breathtaking start to a hopeful, full-fledged professional league in 2008.

Eli Kalekwa, owner of premiership team, and 2009 domestic champions, Sofapaka, praised SuperSport financial windfall to Kenya football 

The hitherto successful [South African] Premier Soccer League (PSL) jostled to run the premier league in Kenya, their sights set on making it a successful commercial enterprise. Clearly modelled as a second-tier sort of businness from where to make additional money after the enviable PSL. The Kenyans were in negotiations with South Africans, KPL representatives making several visits to Johannesburg in hope of a business deal with Kenya’s top football teams.

The South Africans also visited Kenya. Among them was Trevor Philips, who was the PSL chief executive officer (in his second stint) between 2002 and 2007. The PSL, however, confirmed Phillips died on Monday.

Imtiaz Patel, former chief executive office of SuperSport stood with the Kenya Premier League rocketing it to unprecedented success

Imtiaz Patel, former chief executive office of SuperSport stood with the Kenya Premier League rocketing it to unprecedented success

In 2007, after pitching for the unique across-the-borders management of another nation’s football, Philips and PSL were confident that the Kenyans would agree to their offer. Therefore, like so many businesses run by South Africa in Kenya, Kenya football would have been acquired by South Africans.

The man who would have actualized this push was Philips who PSL now mourns, writing: “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Mr. Trevor “British Bulldog” Phillips, the first Chief Executive Officer of the Premier Soccer League.

“The NSL Executive Committee conveys its heartfelt condolences to Mr. Phillips’ family, more particularly, his wife Stella and his children Mark and Sharon.”

Happier days … when corporates supported Kenya football

Philips was the founding CEO serving after founding in 1997 and leaving after two and a half years before returning for his second term that he would engage with the Kenyans. He will be remembered for his great contribution in making the South African flagship league a profitable and sustainable organisation, a dream he had for the Kenyan game.

Kenyan clubs, after years of doomed existence had taken matters into their own hands, cut off entanglement with a quarrelsome Football Kenya Limited (FKL) and gone “independent” to manage their competition and business affairs.

The 16 clubs that would kick off a professional KPL in 2008 were: Mathare United, Sony Sugar, Agrochemical, Ulinzi Stars, Thika United, Chemelil Sugar, World Hope, Tusker, Gor Mahia, Sher Karuturi, Kenya Commercial Bank, Red Berets, Bandari, Western Stima, Mahakama and Mathare Youth.

AFC Leopards celebrate their 2-0 victory over Kariobangi Sharks at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani on January 24. Pic/Courtesy BETKING

AFC Leopards celebrate their 2-0 victory over Kariobangi Sharks at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani on January 24. Pic/Courtesy BETKING

The promising new era of Kenya football also attracted the attention of, no less, the British EPL (English Premier League) whose business advisers also sought to acquire the KPL and chart a new horizon. This was to see KPL representatives listening to an EPL proposal, presumably to weigh it against the South African offer.

But in the end, the Kenyans pulled out their remarkable bargaining chip, thinking: “How about doing the business ourselves, just like these chaps?” The KPL creators got another suitor; South African broadcasting entity, SuperSport. The TV company would buy the nascent Kenyan premiership football rights which KPL sources reported was, for total period four years, worth approximately Sh500 million.

This, hitherto never seen sort of money, was how the 2008 KPL would kick-off to a fanfare; and feelings of players, coaches and support staff, beamed by their happy faces. For the first time ever, for instance, each of the 480 players in the league – maximum 30 per club – was guaranteed at least a monthly minimum wage; recorded in written and signed contracts.

With a year to run of the SuperSport rights’ contract, Imtiaz Patel, the chief executive officer of SuperSport engaged KPL negotiators in Kenya and South Africa, then announced in Nairobi, an extension of the contract.

Eli Kalekwa, the flamblouyant chairman/owner of Sofapaka, 2009 KPL champions, and then as chairman of the league happily said at New Stanley Hotel, Nairobi that KPL had done “very well on the negotiating table”.

There was non-disclosure (to outsiders) clause but sources from insiders said that SuperSport had raised the money in the second contract to approximately Sh900 million.

Patel, the SuperSport CEO was to say at the New Stanley launch that: “Both sides are winners in this extension. In business it’s a happy time when each side feels it has outmaneuvered, gotten the better of the other!”

The money from broadcast rights improved KPL by leaps and bounds. And the country too. Over 40 Kenyans in the various careers in TV broadcast received employment and training in South Africa and around the world, establishing a pool of careerists the cornerstone of television business in Kenya to this day.

Albeit a small staff, capacity building to run world-class football management, competition, and TV production was launched. Several individuals working for and around the KPL, we’re educated in South Africa, the local Strathmore University business school and had working visits to South Africa, Britain and Germany to learn the best practices of running high-profile football business.

SuperSport quit the Kenyan football business after a nasty altercation with Football Kenya Federation (FKF) in March 2017. Previously in store in the upward improvement of money earning by the Kenyan football clubs was a possible signing a TV rights with SuperSport (four-year deal) signing worth reportedly Sh1.9 billion.

But a newly elected FKF regime blatantly increased the KPL into an 18-team affair, also declaring an arbitrary change of premiership club football running from Kenyan Premier League Limited back to the FKF.

By the time SuperSport declared the death-threatening disengagement with KPL, the start of the 2017 season was late by a full month, a hand-over — on a silver platter — of an excuse for the South Africans to pull out on a ‘breach of contract” indictment of the Kenyans.

And the money woes of Kenyan premiership clubs, ever since, continues …

-Additional reporting by kickoff.com

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