With local football on pause because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there may not be a better time to take a reflective look on Jamaica’s top flight football competition — the Red Stripe Premier League [RSPL].
Local football clubs have been struggling for some time now. It is a challenge for some to maintain their facilities, while there are others who are finding it difficult just to pay their players and staff, the COVID-9 pandemic has only exacerbated this situation. With that said, the current climate makes it the perfect time for a conversation on adopting a franchise system for local football.
As an avid watcher of the RSPL when it is in full swing, I can safely say there’s barely anything attractive on show. The playing surfaces are terrible, fan support is by and large poor, the game play is boring then there’s the odd red card here and there. The overall fitness levels of the players are visibly low and we can’t see a team like Humble Lion string 8 passes together on their home turf because the field would not allow it. If you really love the game, would you be happy with the current state of affairs?
It has been said RSPL clubs spend around $30 million every season, just to make participating in the league possible. The end goal? To win the Red Stripe Premier League title and be awarded $2.5 million as a cash prize. It is almost mind-boggling that community based clubs are able to survive. Yes, the Premier League Clubs Association (PLCA) do provide funding and other resources to help close the gap but it is still nowhere near enough to help clubs make a profit. It has been said in various circles, “there’s no money in the game”, well that is obvious, but where do we expect the money to come from?
This is the very reason why I am in favour of a franchise system for the nation’s top flight. Let’s give corporate entities the opportunity to step in and run football clubs like a business. This is the only place I can see adequate investment coming from; franchisees would suddenly have reasons to invest in a club’s facilities, develop promotional campaigns, seek additional sponsorship, create merchandise and most importantly, develop a squad full of professionals.
A franchise system also addresses the disparity in representation of parishes in the nation’s first division. Every season (for as long as I can remember), at least half of the league is represented by clubs based in the corporate area. One suspects this is the reason why the majority of the league would not be in favour of a new franchise system. Fear not, as with any franchise based league in the world, teams are handed to the areas/cities with the largest markets (greater population), hence Kingston & St. Andrew would still earn the right to house a few clubs. Looking at the list of clubs that participated in the 2019/2020 RSPL season, 8 clubs are based in Kingston & St. Andrew, 4 of which I have never seen left the league in my lifetime.
There is also the challenge of having organic fan support for these clubs. The thinking is that these new franchises won’t generate the same level of support without the backing of the home communities, many of which are inner-city communities.That may be the biggest challenge to overcome, but given how football hungry the nation is, I am confident there is still a high level of support to be gained regardless of where the clubs are placed.
It is also expected that the best facilities from across the island would be secured for the new-look clubs. Select towns would have to be earmarked to receive a team – Mount Pleasant, Montego Bay and Spanish Town lead the way in that regard because of the structures already in place. In the corporate area, only 4 out of the 8 Kingston & St. Andrew clubs currently in the league have a stadium for home games, those areas will also be in a good position to host a team.
As for the other rural areas, this gives us the opportunity to attach cool names to the areas the club will be based in — Spanish Town Bullets, St. Ann Saints, Westmoreland Sharks and Portmore Crocodiles
If and when we do move forward with this new franchise system, it will be a bitter pill to swallow for many. With that said, the nation’s football will be revitalised and in much healthier shape than before.