There is an adage that half a loaf is better than none-probably this is the script that regional leagues in domestic football are following when negotiating for sponsorship.
It is a similar case of a beggar has no choice-as the league runners in all the three regions face similar problems.
With no voice, no bargaining power, three regional leagues continue to get peanuts from companies who gain mileage every day. For a long time, the football administrators have failed to market the game to attract the sponsors due to several factors.
It is also difficult in Malawi to differentiate sponsorship and donation in football. To be honest, most of the leagues survive on donation not sponsorship.
The regional leagues namely Chipiku League, Simso and Thumbs Up are struggling every season. For instance, the teams in the leagues pocket as less as than K2 million at the end of the season having spent more than K5 million.
To make matters worse, most of the teams in the regional leagues are sponsored by individuals so it is not easy for them to fulfill fixtures.
In the Central Region, Chipiku Stores has been sponsoring Chipiku League for close to 12 years but the company every year has been increasing sponsorship by K1 million. During the prize presentation for the 2019 season, Chipiku Stores increased the league to the tune of K14.5 million.
The Chipiku League is the largest league in the country as it has over 40 teams. Currently, the league has two divisions namely Premier and Division One having abolished Division Two during the Annual General Meeting (AGM) recently. The champions get a meagre K2 million at the end of the season and also get promoted to the TNM Super League.
In the South, the Thumbs Up League is sponsored to the tune of K14.5 million. The league has two divisions with 20 teams in each division. Champions in the Premier Division also pocket K2 million plus being promoted to the top flight league.
Up North, the situation is worse as the league gets a meagre K5 million through Simama and Sons (Simso). The league in the north is in real struggle as nine teams have also withdrawn ahead of next season.
In reality, the three regional leagues in Malawi are among the lowest sponsored leagues in the Sadc. In South Africa, the National First Division –the second-tier league secured a five-year sponsorship in December last year. GladAfrica came to the rescue of the league which had been without sponsorship for many years.
In the sponsorship deal, the champions in the second-tier league starting from this year will be pocketing R3 million (about K150 million) in prize money with it a promotion to the Absa Premier Soccer League whereas the runners up will be getting R 1.5 million (about K75 million). The third placed team will get R1 million (about K50,000, 000) as prize money.
The GladAfrica prize money for the champions is also almost double the TNM Super League sponsorship (K90 million per year) which the winners pocket a meagre K15million as prize money.
In Zambia, Eden University sponsors the second-tier league to the tune of 1million Zambia Kwacha (about K20.4 million).
Southern Region Football Association (SRFA) chairperson Raphael Humba believes that half a loaf is better than none. However, Humba admits that the league just like other regions they struggle to pay referees and other costs.
“Our budget is around K25 million for a season but we have to source the balance through our own fundraising activities. It is not easy to secure sponsorship now days so we have no choice but to do what we have on the table,” Humba says.
Central Region Football Association (CRFA) Chairperson Austin Ajawa also concurred with Humba saying companies who sponsor football in the country deserve respect.
“Firstly, we have to thank Chipiku Stores, they have been royal to us for close to 12 years and we do not take it for granted. Companies are struggling to get money. We value the sponsorship first not the package because we want to protect it at all cost,” Ajawa said.
On Thursday, Football Association of Malawi (Fam) unveiled sponsorship for districts worth K60 million. Through the sponsorship each district will get between K1 million and K2 million depending on the size of the district.
“The regional leagues will develop strong football clubs in the districts to be able to challenge regional and Super League teams and garner local community support that will fuel growth of local football teams and in the process pioneer structured and systematic development of the games,” Fam president Walter Nyamilandu said.
“This will also bridge the competition and organization gap in association football between the districts and the regional levels and once we achieve this, we believe our game will rise from bottom up and this is why this projects theme is Raising the Game.”
The idea of Fam is really good but regional leagues –which are feeder leagues for elite football are in real struggle.