Phillips’ PSL mission accomplished

1 August 2007

Trevor Phillips has completed his second stint as CEO of the Premier Soccer League, with his successor Norwegian Kjetil Siem set to take arrive in South Africa on either 8 or 9 August. As he did after his first spell, Phillips leaves the league in a far better condition that when he took up the post.

The PSL, under Phillips, has been turned from an organization heavily in debt to one that now consistently reports a healthy profit. When he assumed office, the PSL was R60-million in debt. Its annual profit is now around R20-million.

Recently, the PSL signed a television deal with SuperSport. Worth R1.6-billion, it is the biggest sporting deal in the history of South Africa, and it took the PSL into the top 15 ranked leagues in the world in terms of commercial broadcast deals.

Without the credibility Phillips has brought to the league, the big money deal would not have been possible.

He explained what it would mean for the PSL’s teams, saying he estimates that an average club would earn about R13-million this season. In 2002, the monthly grant from the PSL to clubs was a mere R100 000.

There was initially a big outcry from fans, who thought that the deal with satellite service provider SuperSport would mean that people in lower income brackets – which includes the majority of SA’s football fans – would not be able to afford to watch the sport any longer because they wouldn’t be able to afford the satellite decoders required for DSTV, which includes SuperSport.

Deal between SuperSport and SABC
Shortly afterwards, however, a deal was struck between SuperSport and the SABC, which will see the public broadcaster screening 143 PSL matches, which includes giving the SABC exclusive rights to 110 games.

SuperSport and the SABC will screen 33 matches together. In addition, SuperSport will exclusively screen over 100 games.

The deal means that South African soccer, the PSL, and especially its fans, are the winners. The number of PSL matches to be screened will be more than double that previously shown.

For the man in charge of the PSL, Trevor Phillips, it was yet another success for the game in South Africa.

Despite having officially completed his time as CEO, he has one more task to complete. Phillips has been in talks with the PSL’s main sponsors, South African Breweries (SAB), about Castle Lager’s title sponsorship, which is up for renewal.

Considering the massively expanded television deal, one would think that SAB would be enthusiastic to continue to sponsor the league. On top of that, South Africa will be hosting the World Cup in 2010, and the eyes of the world have already started shifting towards the game in the Rainbow Nation.

Whether the SAB continues to sponsor the PSL or not, Phillips is confident the league will find a sponsor. Considering his record, there no reason to doubt his word.

Some aims not realised
Phillips admits there are some plans that he didn’t see come to fruition, including that every PSL club should have its own home ground. However, he says, with the World Cup coming to South Africa in 2010, it is encouraging to see new stadiums being built, and only stadiums being upgraded.

Although he will be stepping down from his position as CEO of the PSL, Phillips will not be lost to South African football. In fact, he will not be lost to South Africa either.

He recently bought a house in Morningside, Johannesburg and owns a game farm near Bela Bela in Limpopo province.

Working for Safa
He will also continue to serve on the board of the South African Football Association’s (Safa’s) commercial wing. With his long record of commercial and marketing success, it would be foolhardy not to make use of his expertise as South Africa prepares to become the first African nation to host the World Cup.

There have been suggestions that Phillips will take over as CEO of Safa’s commercial wing, but he has denied them.

A football man through and through, one who sees the players as the prize asset of the game, Phillips says he would prefer to get involved in the development of soccer in South Africa.

The PSL before Phillips’ return
Looking back at the situation he faced when he took up the post of CEO, Phillips has overseen a turnaround that borders on the miraculous.

He took over as CEO on 1 November 2002, having previously left the post in 1998. During his absence, the PSL underwent a series of embarrassing incidents. They included his successor, Joe Ndlela, being accused of corruption in his previous post as head of transport parastatal Transnet.

Ndlela was subsequently fired by the PSL after he failed to get proper authorization for spending which reportedly included R700 000 on designer suits for players.

Robin Peterson succeeded Ndlela, but his time in charge didn’t last long. It was blighted by the tragedy that occurred at Ellis Park on 11 April 2001 in a match between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs. At an overcrowded stadium, 43 people lost their lives and 158 others were injured.

Fingers were pointed in all directions as to who was responsible for the disaster, and Peterson clearly suffered greatly under the weight of this burden. Distrust on the PSL executive built up, and eventually he resigned.

For almost a year the PSL functioned without a CEO. Instead, Mandla Mchunu, the former head of the Independent Electoral Commission, was appointed non-executive chairman of the league and tasked with putting mechanisms in place for its functioning.

However, Mchunu’s time in charge was hampered by the amount of time he spent away from the job overseeing elections in Nigeria, and by unhappiness from various quarters over the findings of a Mchunu-appointed team designed to improve the running of the league.

Mchunu resigned in September 2002, having been absent from his office since May, when he took leave to oversee the Nigerian elections, and amid unproven allegations that his expenses were costing the league R500 000 a month.

After Mchunu’s departure, Orlando Pirates boss Irvin Khoza was appointed interim PSL chairman.

The effect of the absence of strong leadership on the PSL could not be clearer. On 15 October 2002, the PSL league standings revealed that two teams had played seven matches, two had played six matches, four had played five matches, five had played four matches, two had played three matches, and one team, Orlando Pirates, had played not a single match.

In short, since the time when Phillips had been in charge, the PSL had deteriorated, costing the league both fans and sponsors.

Realistically, there was only one man to turn to, the obvious solution being to get Trevor Phillips to return to the post of CEO and help pull the PSL out of its downswing. Thankfully, he accepted the challenge.

Shortly before taking over, Phillips expressed his no-nonsense attitude when he told the Sunday Times (13 October 2002) what he saw as his job: “I will not worry myself about Safa and the international teams. I am not interested in the politics either. I just want to do my job, with a direct and applied approach.”

He thus made it clear that he would not allow the internal politics that have so often bedevilled South African soccer to get in the way of his job, saying he would not have returned if he had been granted only limited control of the running of the league.

The re-appointment of the former commercial director of the English Football Association was also good news for South Africa’s professional footballers. In his first stint as CEO, Phillips had lent his support to the formation of a players’ union, and he also introduced a minimum wage.

He also made it clear that the players were number one on his list. “It’s not even a question that players are the prime assets of the sport,” he told the Sunday Times. “Fans do not pay to see Phillips, Kaizer [Motaung], Irvin [Khoza] or Natasia [Tshiclas]. They just want to enjoy the performances of their favourite players.”

It’s that attitude that has restored credibility to the PSL and made it more accessible to more people than ever before. And it’s that attitude that has made Trevor Phillips and South African football winners.

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