But the scenario drastically changed a few weeks ago, when the federation inked a deal to have the next four seasons of the Côte d’Ivoire Ligue 1 shown live on RTI. What is more, it achieved this not by buying exposure on the public station, but by actually selling the competition’s media rights - a complete shift of fortune, triggered by a simple investment in a couple of sets of floodlights.
“Thanks to the floodlights, fans can come to the stadium later - after work and when the weather is not as warm. Also, the wider array of kick-off times allows us to organise doubleheaders and to avoid clashing with the European games, which is interesting for the broadcasters. As a result, we signed the local agreement and also a memorandum of understanding for a four-year international broadcast deal,” says FIF vice-president Sory Diabaté. “All this means more revenue; a revenue that is reinjected into the development of the league itself and of Ivorian football.”
The Ivorian experience is an example of FIFA’s most recent approach to help developing football nations become stronger, not only by providing resources, but also by trying to pave the way towards a more sustainable financial independence. In Win-Win projects like the one in Côte d’Ivoire, the football development equation runs from an unusual starting point – say, a set of floodlights – and aims at reaching a stage of solid and constant income generation that can help to drive the improvement of the game.
Walking on the sunshine
A core part of the programme requires the member associations’ commitment to reinvest the revenue generated from the improvements back into the development of football. This is how one of Win-Win’s flagship initiatives thrived in Guam. The small island in Micronesia joined FIFA in 1996 and benefitted from the governing body’s Financial Assistance Programme to build a national training centre in Harmon. However, for a small association like Guam, there was a more complex challenge ahead: to obtain the resources to keep the centre functional.
“We struggled to find the money to maintain our technical centre and, as we did it, there were barely any resources left to invest in football development,” says Guam FA (GFA) president Richard K. Lai, when explaining the reasoning behind applying for FIFA’s Win-Win funds in September 2012.
The average year-round temperatures in Guam range between 25°C and 31°C, with over 2,000 hours of sunshine every year. These may turn out to be warm conditions to play football during the day, but they happen to be just the ideal setting for solar-generated electricity. And so it was the installation of a set of solar panels that changed the life of the GFA and its centre: the sustainable solar-generated power and light allowed the federation to organise evening activities and eventually reach the current figure of 200 matches played every week – from boys and girls aged six years old up to senior teams. On top of that, the savings in electricity bills amounted to about US$ 70,000 per year – a figure that, for a small federation, means the difference between making the most of new facilities or struggling to keep them going.
“We now have a full-time training academy for kids aged 8 to 11 years old, with top level international coaches to train these players. If it was not for the income generated by the solar panels, we would certainly be struggling to find the resources for a project like that,” says Lai.
The results are palpable. With a population of just 180,000, Guam went from the 206th and then very bottom position in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking when it joined in 1996 to its current 150th place, having recently clinched their first-ever FIFA World Cup Qualifier wins – 1-0 against Turkmenistan and 2-1 over India - on the road to Russia 2018. “And, more importantly, over the last 20 years football went from being the 7th most popular sport in the country to the number one in terms of number of participants,” says Lai.
The process of finding ways to generate sustainable income is not limited to funding, but also the expertise needed to identify the most viable solutions and to help put them into practice. This two-fold support was instrumental in Tajikistan, where until last April the federation depended on the availability of the country’s only outside broadcasting van – owned by the public television channel – to televise football games. Through Win-Win, FIFA subsidised the acquisition of an outside broadcast van for the Tajikistan Football Federation (TFF) and offered the technical consultancy to train the association to produce its own broadcasts.
“We’re trying to find practical ways to help developing football nations grow and to achieve greater financial independence, so that they can invest in football on their own terms – and we know that has to go beyond simply providing associations with direct funding or training facilities,” explains FIFA’s Manager of Football Facilities and Income Generation Programmes, Daniel Krebs. “We have consultants involved from the start, conducting feasibility studies of each project, following the implementation closely and providing training when necessary, while FIFA makes sure to monitor the whole process, including the financial results.”
Working with its own OB van and after over one year of technical training, the TFF broadcasted its first-ever international game on 8 September, when the country hosted Australia in Dushanbe. Not only was the match followed by Tajik fans all over the country, it was streamed live on the internet, and the media rights were sold to Australian television.
“This was our first game with international standards and it was a historical moment,” says the TFF’s director of marketing and communications, Firuz Khasanov. “From now on, we’ll be starting to record the national premier league games, which was impossible without our own equipment.”
The 28 Win-Win projects that have been approved so far offer a wide range of possibilities: from the full support to establish a domestic league in the Dominican Republic to buses in Burkina Faso. Whatever it may take to help member associations fulfil their potential and generate their own money. Their own development money.