Tue | May 22, 2018

Oral Tracey | Franchise football a pipe dream

Published:Monday | April 23, 2018 | 12:09 AM
Boys' Town’s Daemion Benjamin (left) tries to shield the ball from Tivoli Gardens’ Junior McGregor during a Red Stripe Premier League (RSPL) football match at the Edward Seaga Complex in March. Boys' Town and Tivoli are two west Kingston-based clubs representing the Kingston and St Andrew Football Association (KSAFA). It has been a widely held view that there is a disparity in the RSPL with KSAFA teams making up at least half of the league.

As the 2017-2018 Red Stripe Premier League (RSPL) football season comes to a close, there is widespread acknowledgement across the local football fraternity that the clubs and the league itself are seriously unprofitable and realistically unsustainable. This means that something needs to be done urgently to improve the fortunes of the nation's top-drawer clubs, and, by extension, our top-flight league.

The notion of a franchise system has been foisted to the fore in recent times as a possible route to the ultimate rescue of the Premier League. The franchise system is mostly employed across North American sports, where professional sporting franchises are distributed across the country, with teams generally taking on the name and identity of the larger cities. There is no system of promotion and relegation, with an annual draft of new players, ensuring some semblance of equality in terms of talent and player allocation.

As far as the franchise concept goes, it would theoretically address several of the anomalies of the current semi-professional format. Certainly, it would address the current scenario of a disparity in representation of parishes, with Kingston and St Andrew having half, if not more, of the teams in the league. The ideal franchise system would see professional clubs spread across all regions, if not all parishes, with Kingston and St Andrew likely to have a more moderate three or four franchises commensurate with their population density.

 

WAY OFF PACE

 

This again is all theory and is by no means a new discussion. The fact of the matter is that despite the perennial suggestion of the introduction of this system, it has never gotten past the discussion stages, and seems no closer to doing so anytime soon. There are certain basic requirements that the implementation of a franchise system would need to satisfy upfront, and in that regard local football continues to be way off the pace.

A franchise system is not a cheap flash-in-the-pan exercise. The RSPL clubs, as they stand now, spend an average of $25 million to $30 million per season, in pursuit of prize money and general income of less than a quarter of that amount. A franchise arrangement would require anywhere between three and four times that $30 million per team, per season, on a sustained basis. At the moment, it is excruciatingly difficult to get any kind of meaningful sponsorship, even for the flagship local football product - the senior national men's football team. To source the kind of long-term investment needed for 10 or 12 teams remains a herculean, all-but-impossible task at this time. The discussion could very well stop right there.

Let us, however, get to the next crucial component of the facilities,which are an absolute necessity if an investment in a franchise system is going to make any business sense. The clubs will need decent and presentable facilities to consistently house reasonable crowds that would make the clubs viable. At the moment, it would be difficult to come up with six such facilities across Jamaica that would satisfy these requirements.

There are also the issues of the economy and the level of disposable income available needed for a franchise system to be viable. Outside of Jamaica's fickle football fan base, the clubs would need to attract a wider audience separate from that current hardcore. The major following for local football clubs generally come from the communities in which the clubs are based. The traditional concept of the community club would be somewhat diluted by the implementation of a franchise system. A process and period of major sensitisation of the entire fraternity would be required, all attainable and possible, but highly unlikely and improbable in the current local football climate. A franchise system would ideally be great for Jamaica's football, if and when that miraculous transformation from talk to reality can be made. With so many seemingly insurmountable hurdles to clear, even as the discussions continue, the franchise system in Jamaican football remains an elusive pipe dream.