Nepali Football: Responsible Clubs?

An interesting bit of statistic to start with. The top team of this year’s Sahid Smarak A Division League will be richer by 7.5 million rupees. That is a whopping increase of cash from last season, where the amount was 2 million rupees for Sahid Smarak champions (4.5 million if you add the title winners of National League).

Each team participating in this year’s league has been given Rs 300,000 by ANFA, football’s governing body in the country, as preparation money. It is a customary practice, to bring the teams playing at the highest level, on an equal plane. Nothing wrong with that…

It is a common practice among sports writers to compare eras. It becomes a habit, almost.

It is interesting to learn that in the league played in 1995 – which was conducted under the present leadership of ANFA – the prize money for the league toppers was less 100 thousand rupees. At that time, each club was given Rs. 50,000 cash to prepare for the league.

Nepal’s only international football stadium, Dashrath Stadium, during an international match featuring Nepal Team. Photo: Self

Yes, it was mid-90s and we’re already in the second decade of the next millennium. Yet the difference is stark. The prize money for the top team has gone several fold but for the ‘also rans’ it has not increased in the same ratio. There could be logic in complains about participants’ money not increasing by much. But the counter logic – that says now the clubs are richer in terms of money due to sponsorships and hence do not need all support from ANFA – is equally strong, if not stronger.

This puts in Nepali football in perspective. It is not that money has not come in, in Nepali football. If it did not, we would not come across football clubs paying their players close to 100 thousand rupees as salary (few disclose it in their balance sheet though). But if you meet the club members or presidents, they often complain about not having enough money for preparation. “It is difficult to manage with the funds we have,” is a line repeated by almost everyone. You know that the problem lies with how the money is managed, or the way they are earned.

Across the world, initially football clubs (and also other sports clubs) were formed by group of friends, colleagues or community groups, and were meant to be a way to enjoy the game and compete. They used to fund the team themselves. Eventually, with growth of competition (and also betting involved in the game), professionalism came in. With the onset of professionalism, the crowd size (supporters or fans) built up and grounds began to be built. The clubs grew larger and started becoming limited companies, to protect their members from having to pay wages for players, which started to become bigger by the year.

However, a club, big or small generates revenue from similar methods. Some of which are ticket sales, merchandise (jerseys, shirts, other memorabilia), sponsorship deals, endorsements and also from selling players to other clubs for a margin. However, it has been taken as a form of public service (a tool used by several billionaires across the world to buy a club and improve their businesses’ image).

If you notice, one thing is common among almost all the methods employed by the clubs to earn. It is the fan base that the clubs enjoy. No wonder, if you notice sports clubs across the world, the bigger fan base they have, bigger the revenue they generate.

And, of late, the fan base has been dwindling for Nepali football clubs. You don’t need research for that, for the clubs tell you the same. Worryingly, not many clubs are doing much to increase that. Clubs are essentially a function of community (except the government teams like Police, Armed Police and Army Clubs), but you don’t see them engaging with communities, except a few blood donation drives here and there. Hardly any have community outreach programme designed to engage supporters. Only a handful of A division clubs run regular youth football training.

The clubs have, so far, been happy receiving 40 odd passes from ANFA for their officials, whenever they play at Dashrath stadium. If you have to increase the fan base, how long can it continue? You can’t expect change in fortunes by repeating the failed exercises again and again.

(PS: This write-up appeared in yours truly’s weekly column in The Kathmandu Post – OFFSIDE – on 8th December, 2012)

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