Malawi’s unseen football: Where did we get it wrong?

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On May 23, 2016 Malawi‘s football had fresh news that a new television station had landed a multimillion deal with the Super League of Malawi (Sulom) to beam matches in the top flight.

For once now the expectation was that fans who do not manage to head to the stadiums to watch the games would sit in the comfort of their homes to watch the games live. It is something we had needed.

Not beaming matches any more.

Beta Television Station beat Matindi TV whose bid was at K37.5 million as well as Times TV whose bid price was at K149.3 million.

Beta TV’s bid price was at K266 million.

Sulom President Innocent Bottomani told Malawi24 during the signing of official broadcaster agreements with Beta Television in July this year that televising the matches would help local clubs economically as well as technically and that it was overdue for the country to have its top tier games beamed live on television.

Beta TV was also meant to pay out a whooping K1 million to all teams every two months.
Teams were also accorded an opportunity to freely collect footages of opponents from Beta TV.
But weeks on, news had hit the local media with teams incessantly complaining of nonpayment of money by the station.

It had failed to settle the set K40 Million sum to be paid to Sulom and the teams themselves.

The local media quoted Silver Strikers and Azam Tigers officials calling for Sulom to consider terminating the contract with Beta TV due to the failure to make the payment and also failure to cover matches outside Blantyre.

Innocent Bottomani

Gone thoughts gone bad: Sulom officials at the signing of the TV contract with Beta earlier this year.

The station had covered most of the games held at Kamuzu Stadium and the closure of the stadium brew more trouble as teams wondered whether the deal was meant for coverage of games in Blantyre alone since the league is a national showpiece whose action takes places in over five pitches.

Some officials from teams went to the extent of arguing that Sulom had placed ‘too much’ trust in Beta TV.

However, owing to the state of the art equipment Beta TV had and that a rather higher bid than the other stations, it was not surprising it won the bid.

I was among the media team that got the rare chance to tour Beta TV studios.

At that time, the station had been training personnel in the running of the studio and outside broadcasts in the coverage of the matches. The studio itself rightly showed the station was in for it.

But weeks went and the complaints of lack of coverage of matches outside the commercial city were on the upsurge. Apparently because it would transpire that there was a big game taking place say in Lilongwe, but the station would cover a match involving struggling sides – a match whose interest would not in every rational football fan’s eyes equal a derby in Lilongwe.

Mighty Wanderers

Malawi’s league not on TV.

Despite all such problems, the quality of the matches covered were none that Malawians have seen locally – except for national team assignments that got covered by Supersport. At least for once we would watch replays in a game of football; watch highlights and what have you that all add the fun of watching the beautiful game of football on a screen.

But Beta TV Station Manager Theuns Bester kept telling the media that the challenges Beta TV faced financially had been the killer blow to such trends and that for teams to take to the media calling for the termination of the contract at the time was equally unfair.

But could we say the market was not ready for this, or that the quality of football in Malawi never deserved much investment?

Remember that at this point in time, Beta TV had indicated it was coaxing would be partners into the games, and that the worries by the teams affected all this. Literary none or not more than three adverts could be seen flying on the screen – a thing that signaled the heightened lack of partners in the game.

Could this draw us to agree to arguments by Be Forward Wanderers Gift Mkandawire that Sulom had rendered so much trust in Beta TV? Well, one could say the market had looked convincing enough for football coverage only that things did not turn out as excepted.

By and by, Beta TV’s coverage of matches was dying slowly. Weeks went without fans watching any matches live other than replays and highlights. Teams were questioning why they were not yet paid by the station.

Not surprising enough, in May this year, barely a week into the 2017 TNM Super League season, Beta Television, announced that it will no longer continue beaming matches due to financial problems.

There are the following arguments that leave everyone carrying on where we as a nation might have failed:

  1. The decision to award Beta TV was done in haste without a thorough soul searching on what the market had in stock.
  2. That Beta TV was not fully into the local business and it was not surprising that it crawled throughout to get partners.
  3. That there is a need for teams to up their standards so as to have a rather more ‘financial-eye catching’ game of football.
  4. That Sulom was meant to be in the forefront banging the doors for prospective sponsors and partners in the beaming of the games.

Whether any of these cases were done correctly or wrong, we need not to be ashamed with a light fact that we have failed as a nation to let our very own league be seen.

How else do we expect an influx of our players to get known to the outer world in a nation that struggles to earn qualification for continental and regional showpieces and a country whose top tier league earns no television coverage in this modern era?

But at the end of it all, we need to keep asking ourselves ‘Where did we get it wrong?.

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