Give Super League teams equal advertising rights

My heart bled again this week when I read a story in The Nation newspaper under the headline ‘Sulom warns teams over uniforms’. It reminded me of a similar story back in 2015 or thereabout which carried the headline ‘TNM stands firm on contract’.

In brief, the news stories proclaim that teams participating in the TNM Super League cannot have the logo of their sponsors prominently displayed on their jerseys. Instead, they should have TNM plc logo because, in the words of Super League of Malawi (Sulom) general secretary Williams Banda, the league’s current sponsorship agreement with TNM plc “demands that TNM logo should be at the front of the jerseys”.

Notably, Nyasa Big Bullets and Be Forward Wanderers have shirt sponsors. But allowing only these two teams to have logos of their sponsors displayed on their jerseys is discriminatory and unfair to others.

Many times, consumers of various goods and services have found themselves on the receiving end in terms of the service they get versus the price they pay for the same. The 16 teams in the Super League are no exception.

In a bid to maximise profits, some capitalists or major corporations employ every trick in the book to spend as little as possible, but hoping to reap tenfold from the same little investment. This is called exploitation.

In my earlier comment on the TNM plc Super League sponsorship deal back in 2015 or thereabout, I wondered whether the sponsorship contract is cast in stone such that it cannot be reviewed.

Defences by both Sulom and TNM plc on criticism of some of the contract clauses have been flimsy. The other time they argued that “when TNM came in 2006 there was no sponsor”; hence, the justification for the apparent exploitation. Really? The other day Football Association of Malawi (FAM) added its voice on the same, saying they would not entertain “ambush” marketing or sponsorship. Like seriously?

By any measure, it is exploitation and unfair trading practice for the sponsor, TNM plc, to prominently display its logo on the participating teams’ jerseys and that no competitor of TNM should sponsor a jersey or club. This can only happen in Malawi and you wonder which strategy books some of our marketers read.

In the English Premier League (EPL) sponsored by Barclays, one of the reputable banks in the world, I see Liverpool Football Club donning shirts prominently displaying the name and logo of Barclays’ competitor, Standard Chartered, with the sponsor’s logo and that of EPL, on the upper arm. This is the trend in modern societies where institutions—league runners, the sponsor and teams—take each other as equal partners.

Today, football jersey sponsorship is rated as one of the most lucrative businesses. Sadly, because of unfair practices, our predominantly financially-struggling Super League teams are losing out. The Economist estimates that advertising space on football jerseys contributes a third of EPL clubs’ revenue.

This week, The Nation reported that according to Fifa shirt advertising standards, the chest is for the club’s sponsors while the league’s designated position is either the left or right hand sleeve depending on the contract with the league.

Given such provisions or best practices, why are Super League teams being denied control of their shirt advertisement? Why does the contract between Sulom and TNM plc give the league sponsor exclusive advertising rights? Where can the teams seek redress? What is in it for the clubs’ current and potential sponsors?

If truth be told, I see arrogance and abuse of the minority in the whole deal. Teams in the Super League are a minority at the mercy of the all-powerful Goliath in the name of the sponsor, TNM plc and its partner, Sulom.

In an ideal situation, football sponsorship should provide a win-win scenario.

Competition does not mean stifling your rivals. I always give the Lions Clubs’ Code of Ethics as one best practice of doing fair business. It urges: “To remember that in building up my business it is not necessary to tear down another’s; to be loyal to my clients or customers and true to myself.”

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