German model FKF, KPL can use effectively

Lack of interference between federation, league organisers key in ending turf wars and developing Kenyan football

Football Kenya Federation (FKF) and Kenya Premier League (KPL) have for some years been at loggerheads over several issues with the former seeking to assert their authority while the latter tries to protect their independence.

This has led to bad blood between the two entities which has only helped to derail the growth of Kenyan football.

Take the issue of the league composition for instance where KPL insisted on the status quo of 16 teams while FKF rooted for 18, leading to confusion and a lot of in-fighting.

Even though the federation ultimately had its way, the expanded league was not welcome by the league organisers and the repercussions have been heavy since a number of sponsors bulked away while KPL reduced the grants they gave to clubs saying they could not afford to give more.

The two organisations also differed on the issue of club licensing when FKF insisted that clubs that do not meet certain criteria like having a youth team and being financially sound should not play in the top tier.

FKF went on to “relegate” a number of teams while promoting some in the guise that they failed to meet the club licensing rules while KPL and the affected sides claimed it was witch hunt by the federation boss.

No turf wars

During a recent tour of Germany, courtesy of pay TV company StarTimes, this writer discovered that FKF and KPL can borrow a leaf from their German equivalents on how to work in harmony to the betterment of the game. The country has a well-defied structure where the DFB (German Football Association) and DFL (League Association) work without fear of interference or intimidation from one another.

“The DFB is in charge of all national teams and football up to the grassroots while the DFL runs the professional leagues including all the 36 teams that form the top and second tier and there is no time one organisation will tell the other what to do,” Bundesliga International’s project manager for audiovisual rights Marco Beck told a group of African journalists who visited Germany last week.

With the defined roles, it has become easy to run football in Germany and the results are there for all to see.

Youth development

For example, without a youth academy a team cannot play in the Bundesliga and that is perhaps why there are so many talented young players in Germany.

“We take youth development seriously. Because of that, our second string team won the Confederations Cup last year, our Under-23 was in the Rio Olympics final and we also won the UEFA Euro Under-21 title. You also know we are the world champions and that is a result of youth development,” added Beck.

“Since 2003, Bundesliga clubs have invested €1.39 billion (Sh166 billion) in youth academies which is massive. On average, a Bundesliga team invests €5 million (Sh600 million) in youth academies every year. If you sell one player for €30-40 million (Sh3.6-4.8 billion) in four or five years, the return on investment is a lot,” says Henning Brinkmann also from Bundesliga International the company that runs the German top flight.

Community own teams

Unlike in Kenya where there are so many teams owned by corporates, the Germans have a 50+1 rule which means that more than half of the club belongs to the community.

These teams are in turn supported by companies that operate within their locality. For example, giant auto maker Mercedes is based in Stuttgart and supports Stuttgart FC, Wolfsburg is sponsored by Volkswagen who operate within the town while Munich-based Audi supports Bayern Munich.

“This system has helped create a high affinity for the league and 99 per cent of Germans have an interest in the Bundesliga because everyone wants to support their team. That is why our stadiums are always full since people prefer to watch matches in the stadium than on TV,” says Beck. The model has also ensured business tycoons do not scramble for  Bundesliga teams like is the case in other major leagues.

“These clubs mean a lot to the people so much so that if you sell it, you will be selling their soul,” adds Brinkmann.

With that, Bundesliga teams hardly struggle financially. On average, they have 10-15 sponsors largely drawn from their community and only spend what they make. 

Centralized operations

To leverage on these, the DFL came up with Bundesliga International to run the leagues with all operations centralised.

Competition and rights, global marketing and partnerships, match data and technology, digital platforms as well as basic TV signal and production is done by Bundesliga International before being distributed to their partners across the world unlike other league where these operations are done by different entities.

Where KPL can learn a few lesson is how Bundesliga International has managed to encourage fans into the stadium. At Bayern, season ticket costs €140 (Sh16,794), translating to €8 (Sh960) per match. 

“We have the cheapest tickets for a match. For example to watch Borussia Dortmund at Signal Iduna Park, you will pay €15 (Sh1,800) while it’s over €50 (Sh6,000) to watch Arsenal at the Emirates. This combined with the passion of our fans has been key to filling our stadiums,” says Brinkmann.

Image is key

However, to grow the game, image is key and while hooliganism always rears its ugly head in Kenya, the Germans have benefited immensely from the behaviour of their fans. They are always clad in club merchandise on match day and walk to the stadiums peacefully watch the game and go back home without incidences. That has been key in attracting sponsors something KPL clubs struggle to get.

“We are second globally to the NFL in terms of attendance and we have the largest standing terrace like the Yellow Wall of Dortmund which has over 20,000 fans. It is the loudest corner, costs just €10 (Sh1,200) but it never gets physical,” adds Brinkmann.

The growth of the German game means cases of begging for money from government to honour matches are unheard of while the national team consistently gets the very best talent. It is the reason Germany are yet again being touted as favourtites to retain their World Cup title in Russia.

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