The sporting season 2013/2014 had registered commencement of first edition of the professional football league in the Sultanate. Conversion from the normal football league into the professional edition was not an easy step taken by the Oman Football Association in 2013.
Many meetings with the clubs’ chairmen and top officials at the Ministry of Sports Affairs were approved prior implementation of the football professionalism project at the domestic level. Moving into professional league does not mean having professional players at the club only but it is a full project, which should feature executive management, dedicated media and marketing team, proper financing and structure and supporting audience to the team.
Dr. Abdulrahim Al-Droushi, an assistant professor in Sports Management and policy at Physical Education Department in Sultan Qaboos University, executed a detailed study with in-depth interviews with ten different respondents from the Omani sports sector between 2016 and 2018, on the main challenges and difficulties which are facing Oman’s football professionalism project. The results of the study were presented at the 5th International Conference of the College of Education: Sport and Sustainable Development.
Al-Droushi shared with Oman Daily Observer the five significant difficulties and challenges of the football professionalisation project including the financial aspects, marketing issues and obstacles, absence of audience and fans loyalty, and the tough European football club competition.
“The domestic football clubs were struggling a lot financially before the establishment of the professional league. Their annual budget is insignificant. The clubs have to pay a lot to meet the basic requirements of the professional league. In the Sultanate, the clubs provide a multi-sports club beside the social activities and youth teams. Definitely, all these activities required a special budget as well,” he added.
The sports academic lecturer affirmed that some of the clubs were working hard to provide different incomes from the sponsorship. “ Other sources of income include sponsorship deals, TV broadcasting rights, club membership, and match-ticket revenues. Although some companies sponsor these clubs, their sponsorship deals cannot cover even the minimal expenses. In fact, most of these companies sponsor the sports clubs under their corporate social responsibility scheme,” Dr. Abdulrahim said.
TV rights for any professional league could support the teams to earn some additional income which support the yearly budget. “TV rights include only the Oman Sports Channel because there is a lack of interest from regional TV channels and networks in buying the professional league broadcasting rights. Sports channels including Oman Sports TV and other GCC channels had been hesitating to buy the league’s broadcasting rights for the last decade. A debate between OFA and the Oman TV authorities accordingly ensued. Since Oman TV is a governmental channel, there was an argument made by Oman TV that the league’s broadcasting rights should be free because the OFA also receives support from the Ministry of Sports Affairs. After negotiation, the OFA received a smaller TV rights deal than it had requested,” he said.
Dr. Abdulrahim, who is originally from Sur, pointed out that the study included some respondents relate these challenges to the weakness of marketing strategies. “Internal and external constraints have faced marketing of the OPL. There is an absence of a clear marketing strategy on the part of the OFA, the football clubs or MOSA. There is no specialist workforce in marketing, even though there are marketing departments in different organisations of the Omani sports sector,” he added.
Fans loyalty was another major challenge that local football clubs face. “ The national sports stadiums and complex registered the deficient presence of spectator. The statistics for some matches at Omantel Processional league registered attendance of less than 300 spectators. Such crowds are significantly lower than those of the Oman football league during the 1990s when spectator numbers exceeded 2,000 for almost every match,” Dr. Abdulrahim stated in his study.
Commenting on the significant reasons for the decline of spectator attendance by the respondents’ point of view, Dr. Abdulrahim said:” Firstly, the gap between fan associations and football clubs, lack of proper services in the stadiums, there is no real professional football and there is intense competition from European football clubs in terms of viewing matches on television which is also believed to be critical in explaining why the young generation is disconnected from Omani football clubs and the professional league union”.
Dr. Abdulrahim Al-Droushi ended his statement by mentioning some concluding notes from the study.
”There were critical issues mentioned by the interviewees which may affect the development of professional football status in Oman such as the current legal status of sports clubs in Oman, the players’, clubs’ amateur status, lack of adequate modern sports infrastructure,” he added.