31 January 2013

Uganda: Is Football in Uganda a Worthy Investment?

Returning from training at Wankulukuku stadium recently, one Express FC footballer told me that he had not been paid for three months.

Yet, he said, last season, on the 26th day of every month, his salary was on his account. Honestly, I could understand his plight. But after giving it more thought, I wondered what we should think about club bosses, given that some of them unscrupulously take their players for a ride with a lot of empty promises. Yet others just want to buy time before they clinch the next deal so that they can pay off their players and keep the team going.

In the aftermath of the players' strike in March last year, I had a chat with Haruna Kyobe, the secretary of the then Bunamwaya SC (now Vipers FC). This strike had been triggered off by the fact that some players believed clubs were reaping them off, and therefore deserved improved contracts and a minimum wage. The players were apparently inspired by the NBA lock-out and the footballers' strike in Italy and Spain in 2011.

It was something that Kyobe felt was unreasonable. And this is why: Bunamwaya spent Shs 550,000 everyday on players' transport, meals and allowances. On top of that, Shs 9m was needed every month to settle player salaries. On average, Bunamwaya spent a total of Shs 20m a month, yet when the first round of the league last season ended, they had only raised less than Shs 2m as net income from the gate-collection.

In the 2010/2011 season, KCC FC spent a whopping Shs 330m, yet its income in ticket sales was Shs 15m and Shs 30m from player sales. So, who covers the Shs 285m deficit the club suffered?

It is even worse at SC Villa. The club spent Shs 36m every month on players' welfare but their revenue in gate-collection was just Shs 14.5m. They even spent Shs 120m on signing new players last season. When URA FC was involved in Caf engagements last year, they spent Shs 20m on every visiting team and $9000 (Shs 23m) on the travelling contingent of referees. They spent Shs 60m on travel tickets and Shs 9m on players' allowances they left home to their families.

Yet, on the two occasions they hosted Lesotho Correctional Services and Djoliba AC from Mali, they didn't make more than Shs 15m. But even without any substantial returns, the URA players' salaries, which are reportedly in the range of Shs 12m a month, were paid. It should be noted that players at Proline FC have also gone months without pay.

Of course it is incumbent on Mujib Kasule to sort that out. But before you condemn him, remember that every week, he has to spend Shs 1.8m on team allowances. His club's average collection from the gates is Shs 50,000 per game because so few people watch league games. Come to think about it, who would want to be in such a non-rewarding project like football has proven to be?

Fire Masters, who were relegated from the Super League last season, pulled out of competitive football altogether. Instead, they play corporate football now. They used to spend Shs 250,000 per day and Shs 5.4m on monthly salaries without any revenue from ticket sales. They had no fans. Maroons FC is lucky to have the Luzira prisons community for a fan-base. But that hasn't translated into a big cash cow to offset the huge expenditures the club incurs.

Just Shs 4m in net income was collected by Maroons from the fans who watched their home games. Yet, once you evaluate how much is spent on the players, on top of the Shs 250,000 salary each receives, housing, food and allowances bring the total expenditure on each player to Shs 450,000 a month. For 25 players, that is Shs 11.2m a month.

We need to take our hats off for people and sponsors alike, who sacrifice everything under no duress to keep these teams going. Football is a thankless investment and chasing philanthropists like Omar Mandela and Godfrey Kirumira, as we once did, is something we must never repeat!

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