Tanzanian satellite TV provider will not revew a multimillion sponsorship deal for the Rwanda Premier League, a move likely to see the firm completely exiting Rwanda.
In a letter dated August 4, AZAM TV informed the local football governing body FERWAFA that with effect from August 21, it will no longer be the sponsor for the League. In addition, the tournament will seize to be called “AZAM Rwanda Premier League”.
Back in August 2015, AZAM came as welcome relief for the country’s football. Not only was it investing $2.5m (Rwf 2.2bn), it would also show the games on its sports channels for next 5years.
However, even before the ink on the deal had dried, signs of trouble were already emerging.
First, during the early matches of the season, AZAM officials directed teams that there could be no advertisements in home stadiums where matches are played. AZAM reportedly said its cameras and platform cannot be used to show images of other companies.
For clubs, the directive was unacceptable, but had no option than comply.
Under the AZAM sponsorship deal, here is how the teams were to benefit:
- each team in League received Rwf 10m cash for each season
- Each team among the top 8 on league table got additional Rwf 2m
- Each team in top 4 got more Rwf 2m
- Top 2 teams got another Rwf 3m
- League champions would get Rwf 25m
A year after the AZAM-FERWAFA deal was sealed, Rayon Sports, considered the most popular team and current champions, scooped a sponsorship deal with brewer SKOL.
Immediately, a new front of problems rose for AZAM. According to sources, AZAM blocked all SKOL advertisements at games.
The biggest battle would come a little later: AZAM required that no SKOL products, beers to be precise, are not allowed on pitches.
For Rayon’s fans, the most ardent – who attend in the thousands, such interference was received with angry commentary. This was not good publicity for AZAM.
And then in April last year, FERWAFA got new leadership, with Brig Gen (Rtd) Jean-Damascène Sekamanachair as chair.
During the hotly contested campaign, the former military officer rod on widespread popular discontent over the declining state of football in the country. He promised radical changes.
Among his targets, as became clear in media interviews that followed his win, Sekamana said the AZAM sponsorship was unfair and had to be renegotiated.
In December last year, a few months into office, Sekamana’s promise of action came to light. AZAM was reportedly forced to agree to new terms. A new formula was put on the table, giving more control of match revenues to FERWAFA and clubs.
However, AZAM officials in subsequent media interviews expressed open hostility to the new deal. AZAM said it would not accept its channels airing adverts for alcohol, cigarettes and other things outlawed in Islam.
Now that AZAM has opted to end the deal a year earlier is, clear indication the Tanzanians could not hold any longer.
In letter to clubs dated August 14, FARWAFA General Secretary Uwayezu Regis wrote that AZAM had informed the federation it was leaving August 21.
“We therefore advice you to prepare for due changes in Rwanda Premier League 2019-2020, in case no change comes, the funding you have been recieving from [AZAM] will stop,” wrote Uwayezu.
However, the letter says talks are ongoing to salvage the sponsorship deal.
Observers have also pointed to very low viewership on AZAM channels as another of the possible factors that may have convinced the satellite provider it was time to throw in the towel. And coupled with its war with Rayon Sports, it is hard to see where the viewers would have come from.
There are three other providers of satellite channels, including Chinese StarTimes, as well as locally-owned Tele 10 which supplies South African DSTV and France’s Canal+.