By Balford Henry
Observer Senior Reporter
Sunday, October 20, 2019
Major changes are coming to the Jamaican National Premier League, as incoming president of the Premier League Clubs Association (PLCA), Mike Henry, starts unfolding plans to develop a league closely resembling the powerful English Premier League (EPL).
According to Henry, much progress has already been made in the short space of time since he was named the new president, highlighted by the recent visit to Jamaica of former EPL boss, Richard Scudamore, on a preliminary exploration trip which should lay the foundation for a partnership to build the local league into the Caribbean's foremost football spectacle.
“We are at the beginning of a new [season] and, as Richard [Scudamore] outlined, once we have reorganised and rendered our clubs and central league administration more efficient and highly professional, we can achieve a unique position throughout the Caribbean region and beyond,” Henry told a private luncheon at which the English corporate football expert and Peter Hargitay were his special guests.
During their two-day-long trip, the Englishmen huddled with leading Jamaican football administrators including Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) President Michael Ricketts, to discuss how they could assist the local administration start a genuinely professional, incorporated league with the ability to attract more sponsors and fans in the spirit of the EPL.
Scudamore retired as executive chairman of the EPL last December with a gift package worth 5 million pounds (sterling), and an agreement for his retention in an advisory role “in recognition of the outstanding work he has carried out” in a decision supported by all 20 EPL clubs.
In addition the 60-year-old English football legend had to sign a comprehensive set of “non-compete clauses”, ensuring that he cannot join a rival organisation at this time following what Tottenham Hotspur Chairman Daniel Levy commented was “an outstanding contribution to English football”.
He visited Jamaica September 3-5, accompanied by Peter Hargitay, a European football professional with long-standing expertise in advising governing bodies, confederations, clubs and leagues, and who is no stranger to Jamaica as he spent 10 years in the island producing documentaries, after producing the highly popular musical King, based on the life of the late Martin Luther King.
Henry, who was recently named chairman of the PLCA, succeeding the late Edward Seaga, said his invitation to the pair of English football league veterans was to kick-start plans to boot the local league into the 21st century, by offering their advice and help in restructuring the local league “to make it viable and prepare it for the future”.
He also insisted that much progress has already been made in the short space of time they met for “a series of highly focused meetings” with local football executives and representatives of the Jamaican Premier League clubs.
They huddled in preparatory briefings for the following of an intense timetable, which also included a courtesy call on the JFF President Michael Ricketts and his senior team, as well as a visit with Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange at her Trafalgar Road office, followed by early morning and late evening discussions involving NPL executives including Vice-President Carvel Stewart and attorney-at-law Ian Wilkinson.
According to Henry, on Scudamore's advice, the Jamaican Premier League has decided to simplify its structure and will now create “a solid and strong” new league along the lines of the world's most successful and powerful example, the English Premier League.
Scudamore and Hargitay highlighted the ideal structural changes that would satisfy future requirements, and outlined some crucial points that allowed the English Premier League to grow from a modest beginning into the financial powerhouse that remains unmatched by any country.
Henry noted that, under Scudamore's guidance, the English top league has developed into “the most valuable football property anywhere in the world”.
Ricketts had suggested that it is crucial that the newly named Jamaica Premier League operate in a non-confrontational manner, supporting each other's effort to develop top-level football in Jamaica.
Grange, who welcomed the European football professionals to Jamaica, praised Scudamore's exceptional success in England, as well as the influence he has had over the game well beyond England's borders.
Following a courtesy call on Grange, the visitors were guests at a luncheon organised by Henry and his team, where over 20 existing and potential sponsors were introduced to the lucrative opportunities that football offers to corporations and their bottom line.
“There are always two aspects to consider,” suggested Hargitay. “For one, it is evident that a well-activated sponsorship will generate tangible results that directly affect the bottom line. But, there is an additional point, namely, the fact that corporations, under their corporate social responsibility programmes, would contribute to improvements in the socio-economic structures of their direct and indirect environment.”
Scudamore listed a number of advantages corporate sponsors and partners can gain from long-term and short term agreements with the league.
“We are at the beginning of a new era and, as Richard outlined, once we have reorganised and rendered our clubs and central league administration more efficient and highly professional, we can achieve a unique position throughout the Caribbean region and beyond,” Henry insisted.
The visit concluded with a full meeting of all NPL members whose season had started on September 1, which Henry noted had happened for the first time in many years.
“It is fundamental that we showcase to all stakeholders that the new Jamaican Premier League means business and delivers. Delivers for its members, for its fans, its supporters and sponsors and, last but not least, for the governing body, the JFF,” Henry said.
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