Gone are the days of full stadiums on Sundays and Wednesdays, crammed with enthusiastic fans excited to see the likes of Jermain Hue, Fabian Davis, Kevin Lamey, and Cornell Chin-Sue to name a few. As the years have progressed, local interest has waned in the local football league and with it, so has sponsorship. The title sponsorship has changed hands several times, which suggests that no one wants to commit long term finances to a struggling league. However, under the leadership of the freshly minted chairman of the newly formed, Professional Football Jamaica Limited (PFJL), Chris Williams, the premier league has secured several new sponsors for the upcoming season.
With their new “adopt a club” strategy, the PFJL has secured 6 new club sponsors thus far. They are Wisynco, Yummy Bakery, JMMB, Jamaica Producers, Indies Pharma Limited, which trades on the Jamaica Stock Exchange, and Mount Pleasant Academy, the Caribbean’s only residential football academy. All the partnerships have been welcomed by premier league insiders and the local sporting fraternity, except the Mount Pleasant Academy sponsorship which has raised some concerns. Questions have been raised about a possible conflict of Interest with Mount Pleasant currently having a team in the premier league, Mr. Williams has however sought to quell those concerns by stating that Mount Pleasant Academy is separate from the club and that sponsors play no part in the decision-making processes concerning the league.
Aside from the club sponsorships, telecommunications giants Digicel have been named presenting sponsor of the League, through sponsorship of approximately $200 million over the next three seasons. Going forward the competition will be titled, ‘The Jamaica Premier League – powered by Digicel’. Included in this sponsorship is a broadcast agreement with SportsMax, the Caribbean’s most widely distributed and most-watched sports channel. SportsMax will deliver vast exposure to the league through live and delayed broadcasts, expert analysis, and the best coverage via subscriber and free-to-air TV, or the SportsMax app on smartphones and tablets.
Financial backing is key to propelling growth in the local league and the recently secured sponsorships have provided renewed hope and enthusiasm for players, coaches, team owners, and fans alike.
Jamaica Football Federation President, Michael Ricketts recently announced that the nation’s top flight is expected to increase its complement of teams from 12 to 16 by 2023 as there will be no relegation of teams for the next two seasons. With only promotion occurring for the next two seasons, four teams will be added to the league by the start of the 2022-23 season. This has been met with displeasure by the current participating club coaches and presidents who believe the move is not financially feasible nor sustainable. Another concern they have is with finding quality players across the league with one club president commenting that there is already a shortage of quality players among the current participating clubs and that they will struggle to fill out the new clubs. In my opinion, the reason for the shortage of talent within the league is the reluctance of several premier league clubs to play youngsters over veterans who are past their best days and/or very unfit.
Another issue hampering the level of talent within the league is that many young talents prefer to play schoolboy football deep into their teenage years and then migrate to colleges abroad. I believe if more clubs followed the youth-centered model at Cavalier Football Club, talent would be equally distributed among all teams and these young players would also bring in the capital when sold. Cavalier has recently exported exciting talents like Jamoi Topey, Kaheem Parris, Nicholas Hamilton, Nicque Daley, and Alex Marshall after providing them valuable game time in the league.
In any case, the Jamaica Premier League is still without a start date as the Jamaica Football Federation and Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) have still not agreed on COVID-19 protocols that will allow for a restart. However, with the securing of new sponsors more likely to follow and with changes on the horizon, this upcoming season may be the most highly anticipated in years.