The business of football, as seen on TV.

Every four years, we sit back to enjoy what’s billed as the greatest single sport spectacle known to man. It’s billed as such by FIFA, known to us natives as the bunch of old rich white men who don’t give a damn about football. It’s also obscenely hyped by all the companies FIFA sells rights to, they who seek to peddle all manner of nonsense to us, using the words ball, kick, goal and score in as many convoluted slogans as can be conjured by their ad agencies.

Lakini, you’d think with four years to prepare, the ads would be a bit more clever, but no, the geniuses at UBC (Uganda Broadcasting Corporation) still managed to come up with this little gem praising M7, the kind and generous leader who brought us the World Cup. (If anyone knows where I can find the full clip, please share, that shit was most classic.) My fellow Kenyans, no matter how bad you think things are with Kamwana, know that they could get worse, much worse.

Now I know you’re wondering, why was I watching Ugandan television? Well I’ll tell you. It was because my national broadcaster, KBC, saw fit to deny digital providers their signal, allegedly because those impertinent buggers were infringing on their exclusive rights. It sounds straight forward enough, if I pay loads of money for rights to air an event, I expect to be the only one allowed to air an event, that’s the only way I’ll recoup my investment, yes? All the advertising must be mine and only mine. That must be why DSTV took KBC off their bundle of free to air channels, protecting their rights and what not. Thing is, why would a pay TV provider care about what a free to air station was showing, or vice versa? And what is it about these rights that makes them so exclusive? Isn’t it the world cup, as in for the world? Welcome to the madness that is international football television.

KBC didn’t want other broadcasters airing their games, and rightly so. Thing is, and this is where it got interesting, these pay TV idiots they took to court are not their competition. What StarTimes, in particular, was doing was advertising KBC’s coverage as their own, and selling decoders and subscriptions off it. KBC accused them, and Zuku, of infringing on their rights, and got an injunction to stop them from airing any of its signals, analogue or digital. Note that these digital providers weren’t broadcasting only the matches, they were broadcasting the channel as is, lock stock and bloody barrel. As a cheap Kuyo woman I think that’s a pretty good deal, for KBC, increased reach and all, but what do I know? Turns out I may know a little something.

Allegedly…

A new bombshell has been dropped in the fight between pay-tv [sic] between StarTimes and the national broadcaster KBC … KBC may never have had any communication from FIFA on “exclusive” rights by FIFA.

In a letter seen by Cofek, MultiChoice (owned 40% by KBC) in a letter received at KBC is clearly giving instructions on behalf of FIFA to broadcasters.

Cofek is the Consumers Federation of Kenya, supposedly a consumer protection agency, one whose sole mission appears to be TV, pay TV to be precise. Nothing about power tariffs or price gouging at the supermarket, or even the fact that our national broadcaster owns a stake in a private pay TV company. No, no, no. These buggers only wake up when the price of decoders is increased, but that’s beside the point. This letter they claim gives instructions does anything but (assuming it’s genuine).

What the letter said was MultiChoice Africa were required, by FIFA, to take KBC and other African national broadcasters showing the matches off their air. See, you don’t just up and switch buggers off in Africa, not on this continent where national broadcasters are the mouth of the government, the same government with the power to kick you out if they should feel so led. You need to notify them, probably in triplicate. It also helps to remind said broadcasters that this action is in their interest too, show them the big picture as it were. All this letter said was, ‘by the way, those buggers told us to turn you off, and you might want to tell the buggers airing you to turn you off too.’ Sneaky. They killed two birds with one stone and all by invoking the mighty giver of all things football. See, MultiChoice Africa also had exclusive pay TV rights across most of Africa (about 40 countries), and thus they could comfortably turn off the offending stations, with the added bonus that this ‘regulation’ would lock out all the other pay TV companies, thereby protecting that which they paid so much for (and they must have paid a pretty penny, no?). That’s what the ban was all about, return on investment. That can’t happen when you’re already showing it for free, thus they cut off free to air broadcasters, apparently in several countries and not just here to force their subscribers to pay for premium access. This is the business of football, no?

Just for the record, FIFA are not entirely evil, they sell broadcast rights to the tournament to both free to air channels and pay TV providers, and in an ideal scenario, a country should have at least one of each.  Thing is, the rights have become so expensive many public broadcasters and free commercial TV stations can no longer afford them. Oddly enough, this is where being a poor native helps. African national broadcasters under the umbrella African Union of Broadcasting (formerly URTNA) have a deal with FIFA for exclusive free broadcast rights, although its unclear how much the union pays for these rights. That shared broadcast allows the masses to enjoy ‘their’ game (CSR for Sepp, Hayatou and co.) and helps earn much needed advertising revenue for the broadcasters, revenue they can only earn if their rights are exclusive. Put differently, KBC would not have made nearly as much money as (we hope) they did if NTV and KTN and all the rest had been showing the games as well. It’s like selling drugs, the last thing you want is another pusher just down the road selling the same crap to your junkies.  In that analogy, we the people are the drugs and the advertisers are the junkies. Or vice versa, I’m not sure. Moving right along.

Back to KBC and their shenanigans. They couldn’t let the pay TV guys air their cup content, lest they risk offending the great mother(…), but they also had another reason, they own 40% of MultiChoice Kenya, the other holder of exclusive rights. That’s right, they have a hand in both cookie jars. We can only hope that earns taxpayers like us some revenue, but I am not optimistic. At the very least you’d think we’d get discounted DSTV subscription rates, no? Present your tax compliance certificate and get half off… No? I had to try.

To watch the World Cup in the comfort of your home, you needed to have either:

  1. an aerial to catch KBC on analogue TV, hoping that you could get a clear signal, a difficult feat in most areas given that their signal seems to not be able to surmount challenges like trees and stuff, or

  2. a digital decoder to catch KBC’s digital signal (which was turned off I believe), units currently being sold for about 5000 bob, and they also require aerials, or

  3. a DSTV or GoTV decoder, and a subscription, to watch it on SuperSport, in HD no less, or

  4. a Zuku decoder, and a subscription, because those devious geniuses were airing the matches from UBC, and also on M(alawi)BC, bless their independent thieving asses.

Basically, you needed to be geographically located just so, or you needed to spend a wee bit of cash. Football, my lovelies, is not free. Which should beg the question, why not?

Cue the behemoth that is FIFA. From their site:

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) is an association governed by Swiss law founded in 1904 and based in Zurich. It has 209 member associations and its goal, enshrined in its Statutes, is the constant improvement of football. FIFA employs some 310 people from over 35 nations and is composed of a Congress (legislative body), Executive Committee (executive body), General Secretariat (administrative body) and committees (assisting the Executive Committee).

Sounds quite benign doesn’t it? Almost humanitarian, what with its enshrined statutes and shit. But wait, from the section on income

FIFA enjoyed a great period of success in the four-year cycle between 2007 and 2010, with revenue rising to USD 4,189 million, up significantly from the figure of USD 2,634 million from the previous four-year cycle. While costs also rose, they remained firmly in control, enabling FIFA to make an extremely healthy result of USD 631 million.

A healthy result. That would be profit to us unenshrined types. This is the break down of their revenues and expenses.

 

Are you curious about the period, 2007-2010? Four years, from one world cup to another. On that revenue pie chart, note how much comes from event related revenue. What event, you ask? Let us chuckle together… What FIFA doesn’t openly declare in their woolly statements on developing the sport and such, this one tournament is their cash cow. 93% of their revenue in the 2007-2010 period was from ‘event related revenue’, with 89.5% of that revenue solely from broadcasting and marketing rights for the World Cup. 3.48 Billion in rights, and that was four years ago. This tournament is why, rather how, FIFA exists, and why they milk it for every dollar they can.

From their own numbers, FIFA made roughly $2.5 Billion off the 2010 World Cup. South Africa on the other hand, wonderful hosts they were, spent anywhere from 3.5 Billion (BBC) to $5.9 Billion (How we made it in Africa) to host the tournament, with about $326 Million or so from FIFA thrown in to help. They made a return of $323 Million (according to the Telegraph), from gate receipts.

To put this in context, the host country received less money from FIFA than the total given to the 32 countries they hosted, and they’re the ones who built the damn stadiums. No wait, they competed too, which adds $8M to their tally and takes $8M from the others…nope, they still got less. South Africa made their (official) money off ticketing, with the advertising and TV revenues going entirely to FIFA. It’s estimated that FIFA revenue from the 2014 tournament was $4 Billion. It’s also estimated that Brazil spent in excess of $11 Billion, most of which they did not earn back during the tournament, if past tournaments are anything to go by. Do you see now why there were, are will continue to be, protests on the streets of Rio and such?

It’s a beautiful game, depending on what side of the table you’re on.

FIFA owns the World Cup (insert trademark symbol here), my people, quite literally, which is why the football is not free. Not too fair either, but that’s a story for another day.