Telecom giants expose Egyptian FA’s fragility after sponsorship dispute

Hatem Maher, Wednesday 26 Oct 2011

The Egyptian Football Association finds itself with a fresh headache after a sponsorship spat exposes the fragility of its regulations and absurdity of the hold the big three mobile telecom firms have on football in Egypt

Etisalat, who previously sponsored the Egyptian FA, entered the fray after record deal with Ahly (Photo: El-Sayed Abdel-Kader)

The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) is no longer able to maintain friendly agreements with clubs over a conflict of sponsorship deals — thanks to the intervention of three Telecom giants who made life difficult for Egypt’s football governing body.

The intrusion of rivals Etisalat, Vodafone and Mobinil — the three mobile operators in Egypt — in the football market landed the EFA in trouble, giving it a fresh headache over whether it can keep turning a blind eye towards drafting new regulations to manage sponsorship affairs.

Cairo powerhouse Ahly was the first club to ignite the row after refusing to attend a post-match news conference following their 1-0 victory over Haras El-Hodoud in the Egyptian Premier League opener.

The Red Devils, who have recently signed a record shirt sponsorship deal with Etisalat, declined to show up because EFA put up the advertising logos and hoardings of its own sponsor, Vodafone, in the conference room.

“We always put our ads in news conferences following our home matches, what happened to change that?” Ahly football director Sayed Abdel-Hafiz asked after EFA said it considered toughening sanctions for press conference no-shows.

“The acts of EFA leave clubs with no room to generate revenues. They are already fining clubs on a match-by-match basis for various reasons.

“We will not give up our rights and we have no intention of backing down. We are right, they are wrong,” he added.

Ahly also withdrew from the Egypt Cup for the same reason to further escalate tensions with EFA, who seemed at a loss to find a solution and save its face amid growing criticism of its management of domestic football, which has been blighted by organisational problems during the past few years.

Gouna, who are sponsored by Mobinil, Ittihad El-Shorta and Petrojet followed in the footsteps of Ahly in boycotting post-match news conferences, prompting EFA to hit each with a hefty LE50,000 fine.

EFA temporarily bowed to pressure, however, after deciding to suspend post-match news conferences for two weeks until the matter is resolved.

No regulations?

According to pundits, the lack of clear-cut regulations to manage such matters has once again cast doubts over EFA’s ability to run football.

The ongoing dispute is reminiscent of the one EFA endured a few years ago over the distribution of television rights, an issue that prompted Egyptian clubs to consider setting up an association of Premier League sides to manage their own affairs.

“What happens in Egypt is a certain chaos. The question is: When will this disorder stops?” renowned sports critic Hassan El-Mestekawy wrote in his column in El-Shorouk newspaper.

“In the English League, Manchester United captain Rio Ferdinand and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard recently attended a press conference following their game and the logos of two rival banks, Barclays and Standard Chartered, appeared in the background.

“The sponsor of the English League and the sponsor of Liverpool, Barclays and Standard Chartered respectively, are rivals but that did not prevent them from putting their logos together.

“Time has come to draft new regulations and avoid such problems which abruptly appear because we usually settle such matters haphazardly through personal relationships,” he added.

The EFA used to strike “friendly agreements” with clubs over sponsorship conflicts, but the three mobile operators have seemingly taken a new approach to oppose that with the aim of preserving their advertising rights.

The EFA and clubs remain at loggerheads, with each side unwilling to cede to the demands of the other.

“The regulations state that EFA is responsible of organising news conferences in the Premier League,” Amr Wahby, the association’s marketing director, said in a television interview, failing to back up his claims with a detailed justification, thanks to the ambiguity of regulations.

“Football became a huge investment. But we entered the domains of business, marketing and sponsorship very recently, just a few years ago. We surely lack experience and regulations; such conflicts are understandable. But we must sit down and negotiate in order to reach the best solution,” he added.

The EFA is trying to arrange a meeting with the disgruntled clubs, during which either a compromise will be reached or the matter will take a new twist.

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