BY BOTLHALE KOOTHUPILE
Negotiated by Bennett Mamelodi, signed off by Tebogo Sebego, the story of the Botswana Premier League (BPL)’s ‘cashless broadcast deal’ with Botswana Television (BTv) has been one of the hotly contested debates in league circles.
In fact, the cashless deal has often times been used by detractors seeking to blame both Mamelodi and Sebego for the current financial struggles of the BPL teams.
“The cashless deal was signed four years ago by the BFA. Under the deal, BTv was given a five year contract to broadcast premier league matches. Of these five years, three were to be paid for and the other two were to be broadcast free,” current BPL CEO Thabo Ntshinogang explained.
According to the BPL CEO, the cashless phase of the deal took effect at the beginning of the 2018/19 season. “This means we are not getting a single thebe from the national broadcaster for beaming our games,” Ntshinogang said.
Now, as the BPL Secretariat and BPL teams struggle to keep afloat, the ‘Mamelodi or Sebego cashless deal,’ depending from which side of the fence one is speaking, has become the hot rod with which to beat its alleged masterminds or their supporters.
If you are the BPL teams or the secretariat, the deal has been used as ‘an explanation as to why the BPL is allegedly finding it difficult to financially keep afloat.’
Was It A Cashless Deal
“What we cannot deny is that this deal was done with good intentions,” Ntshinogang explained. “The intention was for the BPL to be able to sell the BPL product to other broadcasters, but this could have only been possible if BTv was producing in high definition,” he said.
The BPL CEO went to explain that as BTv is not yet producing or beaming in high definition, it is difficult for the BPL to sell the product as most of the content buyers they could have sold to have migrated from standard definition to high definition.
Asked whether they cannot rope in another broadcaster, Ntshinogang said it will not be possible as the BPL is in contract with the national broadcaster, who he said ‘holds exclusive rights to the product.’
While the BPL CEO’s explanation is almost similar to that of the architects of the so called ‘cashless deal,’ they however differ on the issue of the broadcast deal rights.
Sometimes back in 2013, the BPL under Mamelodi looked to have struck a deal with Supersport for the latter to broadcast the league games.
Three months into the trial phase, with BTv looking set to lose the rights to beam matches, the government intervened, and according to sources, threatened to review its funding for football and in particular the Botswana Football Association (BFA) if the national broadcaster lost the broadcast rights.
With such a threat hanging over their heads, the BFA, then under Sebego, put pressure on the BPL to forego the Supersport deal. However, a wily Mamelodi knew he could navigate the government threat and he went around doing exactly that almost two seasons after the first trial.
“What Mamelodi did was that he agreed to give BTv a five year contract, of which three would be paid and another two would be free,” Sebego explained. “In return, BPL would then still hold the rights to the BPL product which they could sell to generate funds. As it is right now, the BPL is sitting on its rights to sell the league product,” he said.
Sebego said as for now, it is up to the BPL board and the secretariat to come up with ways to sell the product as they still hold the rights.
How Would This Work
According to Sebego, as far as the deal was structured, it was meant to be a co-production deal between BTv and whoever the BPL would have roped in as another broadcaster, potentially Supersport.
“In fact, at the time, the BPL had already had a deal in principle with Grand Palm Casino and Hotels from where the BPL official broadcaster would have set their studios. The rationale was that this deal would have generated more monies which would have benefited the BPL whilst also keeping the BFA out of collision course with the Government,” he explained.
Sebego said from his engagement with Mamelodi and Supersport, it was obvious that the league would have benefitted from Supersport’s engagement, both on and off the field.
“They (Supersport) gave me examples of the leagues they had worked with, which once they started broadcasting their games, they started attracting sponsors and making monies. Given that our football league product was very valuable then, we believed Supersport coming on board would have made it even better,” he said.
He said away from the monetary gains, had Mamelodi not left and the deal come to fruition, the BPL would have been broadcast across Africa where Supersport is available, making it easy for local players to also get scouted.
“The Cashless Deal was a co-production deal meant to usher in Supersport as another broadcaster. We had to give BTv something and in return, we remained with the BPL rights which we could sell to another interested party,” former BPL CEO Mamelodi explained.
Mamelodi concurred with Sebego that the BPL rights were not exclusively granted to BTv. “The rights still remain with the BPL. It is up to the BPL to work out how they can use their side of the production deal to generate monies,” he explained.
Was it a well Thought Plan?
“The deal was done with good intentions, which we agree with. However, I believe it was not beneficial for the BPL to do that hoping that along the way, rights could be sold. What if it failed? It is like setting out to the shops without enough money to buy what you want hoping you would meet someone along the way who would give you monies to add to what you have in order to afford what you want,” Ntshinogang explained.
However, for Mamelodi, this was a plan that could have taken the BPL from where it was to a whole new level.
“At the time, we had continuous engagements with Supersport and a deal was almost in place, they were willing. When we talked of building a monster, we were optimistic that we would be having Supersport on board. Unfortunately, our term was cut short and the deal was never pursued thereafter,” he concluded.