Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Tanzanian Premier League: the fastest growing league in Africa

Posted on 10 December 2021 by Alasdair Howorth
Simba and Yanga have played once this season in the Community Shield
Simba vs Yanga earlier this year (image courtesy of Simba SC Twitter page

This weekend showcases a top of the table clash between two local rivals and a sold-out stadium of 60,000 of the world’s most passionate fans. It is not El-Classico, not the Old Firm, not anywhere to be found in Europe, but rather the Kariakoo Derby between Simba SC and Young Africans  SC (Yanga) in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

The two rivals are big fish in a small pond, but that pond has been expanded rapidly in recent years. The Tanzanian Premier League (TPL) has grown to be one of the biggest leagues in Africa outside the traditional giants over the last decade.

While neighbouring countries like Kenya and the DRC have seen their clubs and leagues struggling, the TPL has been going in the other direction.

Broadcaster Azam TV this year renewed their licence to be the main broadcaster for the next ten years in a deal worth Tsh225.6 billion (£744,000 thousand), something unprecedented in East Africa.

Dar Es Salaam clubs leading the way

The TPL is well situated for growth as a league thanks to the size of Simba and Yanga based clubs. Despite playing in a relatively mediocre league in Africa, with no continental pedigree, both have cultivated committed fan bases.

This is in part due to the significance of the clubs, both geographically and historically. Both clubs were founded in the 1930s in the biggest city in Tanzania and were involved in the fight for Tanzanian independence.

Both clubs continue to maintain those links to their fan bases. Before the season kicks off the clubs individually carry out a week’s celebration of the club and their communities. They carry out various charitable events in the city before hosting an exhibition match with an invited foreign team, filling out their shared stadium.

They are both fan-owned clubs, using the 50+1 model of ownership found in the German Bundesliga. In the last decade they have both brought in strong corporate shareholders who have rapidly professionalised the clubs. The combination of fan involvement and professionalisation have lead to the clubs rapidly growing, both on the pitch and commercially.

Simba and Yanga games regularly fill out the Benjamin Mpaka Stadium
The derby is expected to bring in full stadium (image courtesy of Simba SC Twitter page)

Importance of Azam

The expansion of the two major sides has also come in conjunction with investment from Azam, one of the biggest broadcasters in East Africa. The company has pumped resources and energy into the competition, bringing many of the clubs into the modern era.

Azam show every match extensively around a country more than seven times the size of England. They even installed floodlights at all the clubs in the Premier League, allowing for night-time games to be played.

What is most impressive though, is Azam’s coverage, particularly their coverage of the Kariakoo derby.

“It’s something to rival Sky Sports and the way they cover the Manchester derby, they’ll do it for up to two weeks pre-match… they’ll speak to everyone, even to the security guards [at the team hotels],” says Salim Masoud Said, a UK based Tanzanian football consultant, commentator and writer.

Their broadcasting isn’t restricted to Tanzania either. Because they are the sole rights holders of the Premier League, Azam broadcasts, via app and online, around the world.

“Now you can watch the Premier League wherever you go, I’ve watched it on the tube, even at weddings.”

A reformed Tanzanian Premier League

The increased spotlight on the league has brought other benefits beyond the finances. Match fixing, once commonplace, is harder to carry out. Salaries have not only improved but are being consistently paid on time.

Most importantly though, players are now being seen and that attracts quality. This has in turn improved those teams which has been seen in continental performance.

Previously, qualification for the CAF Champions League and the CAF Confederations Cup would be considered an amazing achievement. But that narrative has been flipped. This season Simba’s failure to qualify for the Champions League, only making it to the Confederations Cup, is considered a failure and lead to the sacking of the head coach.

Salim believes the real progress is seen in continental competition.

“We underestimate how big these feats are [qualifying for the Champions League and Confederations Cup]. We have no right to be in the group stages really. Success for a team from Tanzania and East Africa is reaching the group stages. Because financially they cannot compete with the teams in South Africa and North Africa.”

The TPL has its problems. It is a league completely reliant on two teams for its marketability. The infrastructure both at a club level and national level is not there. There are few academies, and none of an elite professional standard to capitalise on Tanzania’s huge football obsessed population. And the looming CAF Super League that would draw away Simba, but not Yanga poses a big threat to domestic football in Tanzania.

But the country and league have come a long way in a short space of time. When reflecting on the TPL’s remarkable rise Salim says, “Talk to anybody working in Tanzanian football six or seven years ago. They’ll tell you; it has improved, you can’t argue against that.”

The future is bright for Tanzanian football. In the meantime, fans of Yanga and Simba will be flocking to the Benjamin Mpaka Stadium and fans will be tuning in from around the world to watch one of the best derbies on the planet.