The English Premier League (EPL), officially known as the Barclays Premier League, is the most popular sports league in the world, commanding a fan base of over 600 million. Branded as “the greatest show on earth” it has a huge following in every continent including Africa, not least here in Kenya but why?
That Kenya definitely contributes to this large following is beyond doubt, as many of us are glued to the screens every time there is an EPL game airing especially when our favorite club is playing.
Most Kenyan die-hard fans of the EPL support one of the ‘big four’; Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United. In the streets it’s common to find people wearing jerseys of their respective clubs with Arsenal and Manchester United probably being the most popular. At weekends, sports bars and other entertainment spots are frequented by football fans watching the ‘glamorous’ game and cheering on their favorite clubs.
THE LOST FAN BASE
Throughout the 1970s, 80s and early 90s football fans here use to stream to the stadiums to watch their local Kenyan clubs as they battle for the league and other cups. The most popular clubs were community based, like Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards, Shabana and Bandari, with Gor and AFC being the most popular. But it was in the late 90s when Kenyan football fans slowly shifted from the local league to the English Premier League. So what could have led to the shift?
Unfortunately the local league was increasingly marked by hooliganism and violence in the stadiums as rival fans, besides cheering for their favorite teams, would fight each other, or throw missiles, causing bloodshed, injuries and even loss of life. It was scenes like these that kept away fans and most of them gradually stopped attending matches in the stadium but this did not stop them from loving the game of football.
With the introduction of pay TV in the late 1990s and shrewd marketing by the British media, the EPL was able to capture not only the attention of Kenyan football fans but their souls too as local football was getting worse thanks to violent acts and poor administration.
According to Chris Odwesso who spoke to goal.com (a leading sports media website), “the smart marketers in the UK presented the EPL in a culturally glamorous way that captured the interest of Kenyans, and indeed the rest of non-European fan base into starting to follow the league closely.” Indeed the British media did a good job as they also managed to beat the German Bundesliga in viewership though it was in fact the first to be introduced in Kenya and was also free through partnership with KBC, tagged ‘Football made in Germany.’
KPL DOMINATED BY INTITUTIONAL CLUBS…
Francis Gaitho also speaking to goal.com said, ‘’the KPL is unpopular because it’s dominated by institutional clubs. A glance at the top five clubs in the standings shows that the leading pack is dominated by teams named after brands or companies. Under such circumstances, it becomes impossible to generate a fanatical support base, due to the absence of any social or emotional ties to most of these institutional clubs”.
The good news is that efforts are in store to bring our fans back home. The Kenyan Premier League has been doing fairly well and fans are slowly shifting their attention back to the local soccer scene. Local football even received a boost when DSTV started airing some of the KPL matches on Supersport and this has contributed majorly to an increase in the local fan base.
Though we see some progress, the Kenya Forum still thinks that a lot more effort is needed to revive the Kenyan football scene. We love the EPL but long-term it’s the success of the KPL and the national team that matters.