The Ethiopian Premier League (EPL) Share Company, in collaboration with Gashaw Abeza (PhD), an associate professor at Towson University and a consultant at Face Corner, launched a book titled “Ethiopian Premier League: Multidimensional Normative Assessment and Developmental Roadmap.”
Gashaw provides sports business consulting services to a variety of international organizations. He has co-authored a number of books on sports business, marketing, and sponsorship. The Reporter’s Dawit Tolesa spoke with Gashaw about his book and his knowledge transfer to Ethiopian football in general. Excerpts:
The Reporter: How did the idea to write a book on the development of football in Ethiopia come about?
Gashaw Abeza (PhD): First, I want to thank you for the invitation. The EPL is a top professional football league in Ethiopia, consisting of 16 teams. As you know, from 1997 until 2020, the Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF) has been in charge of managing professional football in Ethiopia. Over the past 23 years, an enormous amount of work has gone into creating an independent league that would oversee its own operations and funding sources.
The Share Company (SC) was established in February 2020 after a 15-year struggle. The league now self-manages its operations and finances but abides by the laws and regulations of FIFA, the Confederation of African Football (CAF), and the EFF.
Since its inception, the league has undergone a dramatic and historic transition. With the help of media rights fees and title sponsorship, it has now been able to bring in millions of dollars each year. The Company had a promising beginning; thus, the leaders chose to base its foundation on facts from science, and they invited researchers to submit their bids. We were fortunately offered the opportunity.
This is our area of expertise, and we carry out various consulting projects abroad. Our research team feels privileged to be able to share our knowledge and make a meaningful contribution to the country’s football. Therefore, the study we conducted on the topic of Ethiopian football development is the basis for the book.
What are the differences between the leagues’ self-governance and their adherence to the football governing bodies’ rules and regulations?
There are two sorts of governance in sports: on-the-field and off-the-field governance. The SC will be subject to the laws of the nation as a business, particularly the Commercial Law. However, the rules and regulations established by the international governing body, FIFA, the continental governing body, CAF, and the national football governing body, the EFF, will regulate the on-field governance. This holds true for all sports in every country around the world.
Can you tell us a bit more about the study?
The research team used five comprehensive research objectives that the league gave as a basis for the study. The nature of the five research goals was broad, deep, and multi-dimensional.
The study took into account various factors such as the merits and challenges of the formation of the league, the organizational structure, the operational system, the financial management of the league and its member clubs, club ownership, player salaries, club licensing, infrastructure, etc. It also identified a total of 33 developmental agendas, which are all investigated in depth in the study.
As a developmental roadmap, it outlined a total of 52 steps necessary to achieve short- and long-term developmental goals, including steps to improve player development, increase revenue streams, improve stadium facilities, and engage with fans more effectively. Such normative assessments and roadmaps are critical for the sustainable growth of any sports league.
It is essential to continually evaluate and improve the league’s standards to enhance its competitiveness, promote the development of the sport, and create a more engaging experience for fans.
The football family is impressed by the study’s depth and organization. Can you tell us what led to that happening?
Well, we took our responsibility very seriously and saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have an impact on the course of Ethiopian football’s growth. As professors, consultants, and researchers in sport management, we considered the opportunity an honor to give back to the community.
Second, we were always of the mindset that the study’s findings ought to have a substantial influence on the growth of football in the nation. So, the first thing we did was examine the reasons why research studies in the country frequently ended up on bookshelves rather than being implemented. We spent two months researching the causes and came up with two explanations.
The first was that managers used studies as a justification for acting on their own thoughts and feelings. Second, we discovered that while many studies identify problems, they rarely propose or recommend solutions based on the data at hand. For the first reason, we are fortunate to have league leadership that is very devoted to putting the research outcomes into practice. They even extended our contract recently in order to develop the study’s findings on selected topics and formulate exit strategies.
Another significant reason is that we decided to develop and incorporate an advisory note at the conclusion of every research agenda, which allowed us to put forward a total of 52 extensive recommendations and advisory notes.
During your media appearances, you frequently discuss your knowledge transfer journey from the Western world to Ethiopia’s football development. Could you please expand on that?
The journey of transferring knowledge from the developed world to Ethiopian sport development was an exciting and challenging experience. The study mainly aimed to identify the best practices and lessons learned from the Western sports industry and different countries across the world and transfer them to the Ethiopian context. The process involved various stages, including data collection, analysis, and implementation.
Particularly, I had the opportunity to conduct extensive research on the American sports industry and identify successful strategies that could be transferred and applied in Ethiopia. I also engaged with stakeholders from the Ethiopian sports industry to understand their needs and challenges. The experience as a whole helped me tailor the knowledge transfer process to the specific needs of Ethiopia, but it was not without challenges.
One of the main challenges was adapting the best practices of the developed world to the Ethiopian context. This required cultural, economic, legal, historical, and social sensitivity and adaptation, as well as a deep understanding of the Ethiopian sports industry. Another challenge was ensuring sustainability and local ownership of the knowledge transfer process.
Despite the challenges, the knowledge transfer journey has been a success. We have seen full buy-in from the direct stakeholders of the football industry in the country, such as the Federation’s high officials, the league’s leadership team, regional sport commissioners, club managers, coaches, referees, players, journalists, players’ agents, fans representatives, etc.
Overall, the knowledge transfer journey has been a rewarding and fulfilling experience. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Towson University for enabling me to work on research projects that I am enthusiastic about.
What do you believe to be the greatest obstacles to the growth of football in Ethiopia?
Well, one of the things I did when the book was finally published was to put it aside and start making notes about any problems I could identify that might be impeding the development of Ethiopian football. The list of issues I had compiled was then organized thematically.
To your surprise, I was able to pinpoint the five primary issues facing Ethiopian football, which exactly match the five criteria outlined by FIFA in its club licensing regulation. These five problems are infrastructural, legal, financial, sporting, and human resource and organizational structure.
Do you think this book will help fix the football-related problems in Ethiopia? Do you believe it will impact football in Ethiopia?
The advisory notes and the detailed recommendation will transform Ethiopian football development. To start with, the recommendations are based on empirical evidence. We used five data sources.
First, we conducted a lengthy, semi-structured interview with over 90 direct stakeholders in Ethiopian football. Second, we consulted scientific journal articles, and third, we investigated the experiences of over 100 countries. Fourth, we consulted internal documents, and finally, we referred to legal documents ranging from FIFA regulations to Ethiopian labor law. So, the findings are grounded in empirical evidence that makes the advisory notes lasting, meaningful, practical, and effective.
The only thing it needs to have is a committed leadership team that is keen to put the advice offered into action. In this regard, the EPL is fortunate to have a board of directors that is fully committed to implementing all 52 advisory notes on a variety of subjects, ranging from player salaries to club ownership to infrastructure development.
What are your future plans in relation to Ethiopian football?
One of the things we found from our research is how intricate and difficult the governance of Ethiopian football is. Although the study found and suggested a number of solutions for a lot of issues, it also found a number of areas that require further research, which was not at all surprising to us.
The country’s football has a variety of issues that have historically gotten worse with time. That is partly why the league and our company have currently extended their engagement to look into additional issues such as defining the roles and responsibilities of the Federation and the league, developing home-grown players, salary management, designing context-based club ownership structures, and developing a tailored club licensing execution strategy.