Make it free, let it grow
The latest directive by Rwanda Football Federation (Ferwafa) to sell the broadcasting rights of their matches will not do much to promote the sport in the country. The winners of the broadcasting tender whose bid is currently under competition will have the right to supply it to other broadcasters at a fee agreed upon by the two parties.
The move’s aim has been mentioned by its supporters as a step towards making the sport more professional, increase exposure and income that could take Rwandan football to the next level.
However, the greatest impact it will have will be lining a few pockets with cash and reducing the sports coverage and reach to local fans.
The local football league has in recent years registered an upward trend in increasing its fan base throughout the country.
This can be testified by the growing crowd at the stadium and by the masses that follow the sport from their favourite radio stations at the convenience of their homes or as they get on with their work.
With the media industry in the country taking infant steps as far as revenues and incomes are concerned, tendering the broadcast rights and selling them will lock most of the media houses out as few will be able to afford them.
As much as broadcast technologies have evolved in the recent past, few media houses in the country can afford quality ones that will enable them have uninterrupted live coverage of the matches when receiving them from another broadcaster.
Most of the radio stations in the country do not make enough for them to afford rights to the matches which will relegate them to post match analysis rather than airing the matches themselves.
The effect this will have is that the millions of fans who religiously follow the sport will have fewer outlets to follow the beautiful game as the appointed radio stations may not have national coverage.
It has been said that the local league is taking after the English premier league which also has a characteristic of having broadcasters bid for the rights to air matches. However as ambitious as our local federation may be it would be important to note a few differences between the two leagues and environments.
The first one should be the differences of the media industries in the two environments in terms of technologies available and in use. It would also be important to note that following and fan bases of the sport in the two environments, the English Premier league fan base is global and it would be unfair to compare it with the local league.
If it is our true intention to see the local league grow beyond the country’s borders and be relevant in the region, we should cease trying to milk money off it before it can stand on its own. We should stop trying to make money off it before it has dependable and long term partners and sponsors. We should let it into as many living rooms (through television sets) and small radios as possible. That can only be possible if the broadcasting rights are free.
The initiative is long overdue
I will start this debate with a simple observation. Of all the times I have gone to Amahoro stadium to watch a football game, the one thing that amuses me is how most people watching the game are at the same time listening to the commentary of the same game off their phone radios.
At first I found it weird, I asked myself why one would waste time listening to commentary of a game they were watching. But later I realised it’s because they enjoy the commentator‘s narration.
Now if a person watching a live game turns on the radio to listen to the commentary of the same game, it’s a clear indication that the broadcasters have influence thus they need to pay for airing rights.
Game is currently a big business venture and I don’t see any problem if Rwanda Football Federation (Ferwafa) charges for broadcasting rights. The sale of broadcasting rights is currently the biggest source of revenue for most sports organisations internationally. There is nothing wrong with Rwanda jumping on the bandwagon especially if the media outlets have the funds. In fact the initiative is long overdue.
The media outlets saying that Ferwafa is not being fair should think of the famous saying “man eateth where he worketh.” If media outlets are making money from airing the sports event, why shouldn’t Ferwafa also benefit?
According to an April 2013 publication ‘Sport and broadcasting rights: adding value’ by Rafael Ferraz Vazquez, Intellectual Property Lawyer, the critical importance of broadcasting rights as a means of funding major sporting events is most evident with respect to top-tier global sports events. The sale of broadcasting rights for the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup has already generated some US$537 million. From 2009 to 2012, Olympic broadcasting revenue amounted to US$3.914 billion.
The author further highlighted that broadcasting rights also helps boost other revenue streams, such as in stadia advertising, corporate sponsorship deals and naming rights, all of which acquire added value because of the visibility that broadcasting affords.
Broadcasting media outlets are making a lot of money from airing live games. In Rwanda, every live sports programme has sponsorship from big companies that I don’t see why they should not pay for broadcasting rights. Instead of Ferwafa entirely relying on the funds from the government budget, the funds from the sale of broadcasting rights can contribute to the development of sports from grassroots level by promoting home grown talent.
From selling broadcasting rights, Ferwafa can use the funds to put more effort in facilitating Rwandan youngsters in sports to become professionals instead of naturalising foreigners to represent Rwanda in regional and international tournaments. The same funds can be used to facilitate and refurbish sports facilities.