The million-dollar deal no one wants to talk about

By Robson Sharuko

It’s supposed to be the biggest deal of this off-season with NetOne set to inject more than $1 million into the coffers of the country’s Big Three football clubs — Dynamos, Highlanders and CAPS United — but even as the giants kick-start their preparations for the new campaign, a veil of secrecy continues to be wrapped around the landmark marriage.

CAPS United chief executive Cuthbert Chitima

The sponsors have adopted a code of silence, leaving the prophets of speculation to feed off the raging rumour-mill which has been buzzing since reports of the marriage first broke out last month, while the clubs have said they are prohibited by the non-disclosure agreements they signed with the company from discussing details of this deal with the media.

However, with part of the money being set aside to help the three clubs secure players during the off-season, whose transactions are being conducted on a daily basis right now as teams try to strengthen their sides, pressure has been mounting for the deal to be officially unveiled and the financial injections to start trickling into the coffers of the three teams.

Part of the deal, we are told, also involves NetOne paying monthly salaries for the three teams’ players and coaching staff, starting from this month, and with only a few days to go before the month comes to a close, concerns have started to rise among some of the clubs involved in the deal.

Last week, Dynamos president Kenny Mubaiwa told The Herald that the Glamour Boys were desperate to try and extend their deal with BancABC, who have been bankrolling the club for more than half-a-dozen years, and analysts say this desperation was coming from the uncertainty that now appears to stalk their proposed marriage with NetOne to take over as their principal sponsors.

Highlanders, who are expected to have a new leadership during the first week of next month when the country’s oldest football club hold elections for various posts, including the chairmanship of the team, held a farewell dinner with BancABC officials to thank the financial institution for partnering them for the past six years.

What we know so far is that:

l The three giants signed non-disclosure agreements with NetOne for the company to come on board as their flagship sponsors from this year and non-disclosure agreements were signed by all the parties late last year.

l NetOne would pour $350 000 into the coffers of each club, bringing their financial outlay this year to $1.05 million, with part of the money set to be used to take care of the monthly salaries of the players and their coaching staff.

l A chunk of the money was also meant to be set aside to help the three clubs strengthen their sides during this off-season by bringing in new players with the sponsors arguing that they could only reap benefits from the marriage if the teams were going to do well in the championship race.

l NetOne were going to distribute their OneMoney, OneFusion and OneFi products to the three clubs and the company would also help the giants also secure quality with the names and logos of the three products featuring prominently on the front of the jerseys.

l Replica kits would also be made available for the fans of the three giants to buy as part of the marketing initiative by the company which has been on an aggressive drive to capture a big chunk of the market in their area of business in recent years.

l Initially, the package was meant to be $500 000 for each of the three clubs but the figure was brought down to $350 000 although, depending on the success of the initiative, there could be room for improvements in the financial outlay.

l Images of Dynamos players wearing orange T-shirts with the OneFusion logo emblazoned on the front part of the shirts, as they underwent their gym sessions in Harare in recent days as part of easing into their pre-season training programme, have also fuelled expectations that the deal, which no one appears ready to talk about, has been sealed.

‘’The deal is on, but just like the Alexis Sanchez issue, confirmation can only come when you get to see the parties unveiling it,’’ sources said.

‘’Of course, there has been concern among some of the parties because time is moving at lightning speed and you never know in this game because until you see pen being put to paper, anything can happen and that is why you are hearing these whispers of concern.

‘’It’s interesting that the initial plan was to get this unveiling ceremony last month but then CAPS United had that trip to Saudi Arabia and it was shelved and three, four weeks later, nothing has moved and that could be the reason why some people are getting concerned.’’

Of course, there is also the issue of NetOne’s biggest rivals, Econet, expected to come on board as the main broadcast partners of the domestic Premiership through their Kwese TV after the local top-flight clubs voted overwhelmingly last year to end their marriage with SuperSport.

The Premiership clubs decided against a renewal of the SuperSport deal after the majority of them felt they were receiving peanuts from the arrangement, amid reports that they were getting as little as $5 000 a year per club, while a mysterious agent is reported to have pocketed $250 000 just to act as the broker of the deal when it was first signed.

Recently, the PSL flighted an advert in the local newspapers indicating that the tender documents for prospective broadcast partners, complete with detailed specifications and the bid procedure, were obtainable from their offices in Harare.

In the event Kwese TV, who are desperate for content which appeals to the local constituency, bid and win the tender to broadcast the domestic Premiership matches on their bouquet, how will this sit with the leaders of Econet Media to be broadcasting on their television platform a league whose three biggest clubs will be marketing the products of their biggest rivals?

Alternatively, others could argue, the arrangement gives Econet Media their best chance to take on their main rivals in a mass field like football and Kwese TV will ensure that NetOne does not enjoy monopoly of presence in that market.

Delta Corporation marketing director Maxen Karombo last month urged the league to have a bigger say in negotiations for a new media rights contract in order to give satisfactory return to the brewing giant’s sponsorship package.

“Any sponsor dreams of amplification of their property through earned media. We urge the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League leadership to seriously consider putting to open tender the media rights to the league’s matches. We have seen new entrants in the television broadcasting sector as well as live radio streaming.

“The much touted ZBC Digitisation programme should be utilised to provide content to the public broadcaster — bring back Game of the Week and put smiles on our fan base,” said Karombo.

Kwese TV have already secured deals with COSAFA for the broadcast of their tournaments.

The last time the two companies clashed on the local football turf was in 2005 when Econet, who had agreed a five-year sponsorship deal with the domestic Premiership, objected to the marriage between the then champions, CAPS United, and NetOne leading the former to terminate the deal after just one year.

Interestingly, NetOne’s marriage with CAPS United also ended that year although the company returned to the domestic Premiership in 2014 by sponsoring the $500 000 OneWallet Cup.

The company also helped bankroll CAPS United’s trip to Lubumbashi last year for their CAF Champions League battle against African football powerhouse TP Mazembe with the Green Machine flying to that assignment on a chartered flight. The Herald

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