As sports broadcasting enters a new era in Uganda, we must make it work

Author, Ivan Ojakol. PHOTO/COURTESY 

What you need to know:

  • The scene is set for a hot sports broadcasting and media landscape.

We have known for a while now that sport is not just “games”. It is more than the hedonism and reverie that comes with it. It is a multi-billion-dollar global industry.

True to form, that realisation seems to have hit home recently in Uganda as social media has this past week been abuzz with the launch of a dedicated sports channel and two competing Monday night sports TV sports shows trending. Fufa, not to be outdone also has its own Fufa TV and not forgetting Azam TV has also been here for a while.  

The scene is set for what should be a hot sports broadcasting and media landscape going forward. 
Ideally, in all of this the sportsman should be the winner with increased exposure and airtime and even income and revenue (this one especially should be away from rhetoric and lip service) Broadcast and media revenue has overtime overtaken ticket sales and sponsorships as the top source of revenue for sports teams best exemplified by the English Premier League.

As of 2020, the likes of Sky Sports, BT Sport and Amazon had paid over four billion pounds for the broadcast of the English Premier League. This revenue is distributed across the clubs in the English Premier League, the real rights owners that only allow the Premier League to manage these rights centrally. 

I know the Uganda Premier League has a similar model-whether or not it is effective is a story for another day. I have unfortunately not had a chance to look at the governing document and/or Constitution of the Uganda Premier League to have an authoritative take on the extent of rights ownership and the licensing mandate given to the Uganda Premier League by its owners, the clubs. 

The strength of the constitutive document granting this centralised licensing mandate is critical as was seen when a Spanish Court declined Real Madrid’s unilateral attempts at taking away La Liga’s centralised broadcast rights management.

Without dwelling on the controversy around Fufa TV, who owns it and how it runs and whether or not it has a say on who gets to broadcast football activities in Uganda, as the new players come into the market, I hope that there will be competitive bidding for broadcast rights. 

The sticky subject of image rights should not be forgotten. Are there contractual documents where players across different sports disciplines in Uganda expressly assign their image rights to their respective sports federations for commercial exploitation? 

Do players engage in promotional activities on behalf of their sports teams in ignorance of their image rights? Even with players contracting away their image rights, that usage should be on an equal basis as that of their team mates, are our sports men and women aware of this when entering into these arrangements, if any?

Clause 53 of the now seemingly botched “Magogo Sports Bill” reads; “A person who, without the authorisation of a national sports organisation, broadcasts an event or competition organised by a national sports organisation commits an offence…”

Due to the public interest that comes with sports, a provision such as the above might come off as “bad faith”, but we cannot bury our heads in the sand that many a time, the commercial interests in sports, broadcasters in this case will come with exclusive contractual provisions. A pertinent question arises here; who really owns sports, the public or sports bodies?

I reckon a similar provision could arise if ever Uganda gets a new Sports law, those with broadcasting interests must therefore pay keen attention. 

I have asked many questions in this article largely rhetorical, but I can only hope that as more media players put their skin in the game in the sports industry in Uganda, the space expands and does not shrink. We don’t want another strange man blocking a live broadcast of a national team football game if you recall Uganda versus Mali.

The author is a Sports Lawyer and Lecturer | [email protected]