Bumper Econet deal unveiled

Bumper Econet deal unveiled

Maseru – Last Friday, Econet Telecom Lesotho and the Premier League launched the brand new Econet Premier League at a buoyant ceremony at Avani Lesotho.
Econet’s deal to sponsor the elite league is the largest in the history of Lesotho sports.
The telecommunications company has jumped on board until 2020 and will fork out M2 million in each of the next three years taking its overall backing to a grand total of M6 million.
Apart from the historic cash involved, the deal is bringing historic innovations as well.
For the first time the premiership will see features such as awards for the player and coach of the month, a designated administration team to run the league and money set aside for referees.
It is a deal that is a step in the right direction in the country’s continuing dream to professionalise its football and, in this regard, the much-maligned Lesotho Football Association (LEFA) and Premier League management deserve a pat on the back.

A landmark deal
Econet’s deal marks a return to football for the company after an eight-year absence. Econet replaces rivals Vodacom Lesotho which had been the top-flight’s sponsor since 2009.
The deal also marks an important moment for the league and Econet which, through its ‘Buddie’ product, had been Lesotho football’s main benefactor from 2002 until 2009.
The deal comes at a time when questions were beginning to circle over the prospects of local football – especially after the national team’s damaging loss to The Comoros in 2018 African Nations Championship qualifiers last month.
Those questions – the foremost of which revolved around the strength or lack thereof of the top-flight le– can now take a momentary backseat thanks to a deal that insiders say will revitalise the Premier League “from top to bottom”.

Their hope is that Econet’s influx of cash will elevate the league to new heights as sponsorships have done elsewhere in the world.
Certainly, this has been the case in the region. For example, the Botswana Premier League receives 8 million pula (M10.2 million) per year. Swaziland, meanwhile, launched a premier league sponsorship worth the equivalent of M3.1 million per year in 2014 while Namibia launched a yearly M13.5 million deal in 2013.

Through those deals Botswana, Swaziland and Namibia have managed to rapidly climb up the continent’s football ranks and although the value of Lesotho’s top-flight contract is some way from those levels, with the right administration the Econet Premier League can provide a further catalyst for the local game.
Speaking at last Friday’s launch, Premier League Management Committee chairman John Leuta acknowledged as much. Sounding excited about the future, he thanked outgoing sponsors Vodacom Lesotho and promised growth for the league.

“Without sponsors football wouldn’t be where it is today and we will be working hand in hand with the clubs, the sponsors and the fans. I want to thank the outgoing sponsors Vodacom for the vital role they played in shaping football in the league and we urge the new sponsors to work together with us in growing football in the country,” he said.
Leuta’s sentiments were echoed by LEFA president Salemane Phafane who said the journey to professionalize the domestic league began a decade ago when LEFA’s executive committee and league management met to find a way to make the goal of a professional league a reality.
Phafane praised Econet for a timely shot in the arm after the league appeared to be stagnating. Just last month, for example, clubs were up in arms over unpaid prizes but this new deal has teams rejoicing.
“A few years ago we embarked on an ambitious journey of transforming football from a purely amateur level towards professionalization but halfway through the journey one began to doubt whether the dream is too ambitious and thought they should just continue playing amateur football,” Phafane said.
“In close consultation with the league chairman (Leuta) we continued to motivate each other and we began to see light at the end of the tunnel. Econet was once again open for us, I can safely disclose this is the biggest sponsorship the Premier League and Lesotho Football Association has clinched in football,” he said.
“(Econet) could have not come at a better time. I assure you that your products will be looked after. Your name will be looked after. We are proud to be in partnership with a company that is as reputable as Econet,” he said.

Econet chief operations officer Maurice Newa presented a breakdown of how the M2 million per season will be spent.
Importantly, M1 445 000 will be rewarded to clubs according to their log positions at the end of the season. Impressively, the league winners will bag M500 000, more than double the previous M200 000 first prize amount.

This is how the prizes have been set:
Winners: M500 000
2nd: M200 000
3rd: M120 000
4th: M100 000
5th: M75 000
6th: M70 000
7th: M65 000
8th: M60 000
9th: M55 000
10th: M50 000
11th: M45 000
12th: M40 000
13th: M35 000
14th: M30 000

For the first time money has also been allocated for match officials with Econet setting aside M255 000 to pay referees and assistant referees.
Administration personnel who will look after the daily running of the league have also been added with Econet allocating M200 000 to their office while M100 000 has been set aside for end of season awards.

Players, coaches and referees set to benefit
In July, Sundawana owner Thato Nkone shed light on the difficulty of running a Premier League club. Nkone revealed he spends close to M80 000 per month in order for the Butha-Buthe club to stay afloat which illustrated how tough it is to run a team and the plight facing players.
With no television deal and meagre sponsorship it is the worst kept secret that only a few of the 14 clubs in the league are able to pay their players on a monthly basis and that many players get by on a pittance.
By increasing prize money Econet’s deal at least opens up the possibility of clubs playing their players.
There are also other exciting features for players that have been added this season such as the introduction of monthly awards that will go with a M3500 prize.
Coaches are also set to be rewarded with a coach of the month award worth M2 500.
Based on their performances, match officials will also be rewarded with a monthly best referee award to the value of M2 000.

Fans and media not left behind
Last but not least, Econet and the league have recognised the importance of fans and media – from now, game-days will see various competitions for spectators to win cool prizes and the new partnership will bestow an award for the media personality of the month throughout the season.
Econet chief executive officer Leon de Fleuriot said this Premier League sponsorship is the massive return to football the company has been looking for since it left in 2009.
He said Econet has always wanted to return to local football and was waiting for the most appropriate time.

“We have come back with a deal that is not only huge in monetary value but also enormous in benefits to football teams, players, fans and the entire management,” he said.
“We know that Basotho are fanatical about their football and we know how they celebrate in victory and show dissapointment in defeat,” de Fleuriot added.
“We also know that sometimes emotions do run high. This is the nature of football but we urge all fans not to provoke each other in the process. I wish this competition to be conducted in a positive spirit, in discipline and in fair play.”

Luciah Phahla

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