Local football boss says player transfer to Serie A validates business approach
The transfer of 23-year-old Mount Pleasant Football Academy player Trivante Stewart, directly from the local league to Italia’s Serie A club Salernitana, is the most significant transfer of the Jamaica Premier League (JPL) since Ricardo “Bibi” Gardner’s 1998 move from Harbour View Football Club to English First Division side Bolton Wanderers, according to Paul Christie, sporting director of Mount Pleasant.
While the value of the transfer — the first between a JPL club and the Italian Serie A — has not been disclosed, Christie has described the sale as more than the monetary value of the initial fee.
“It is the forging of a relationship and a partnership with Mount Pleasant Football Academy and Salernitana,” he disclosed. “The player has a three-year contract with Salernitana with an option to renew with a two-year extension at the end of the contract. There are a lot of add-ons on it and a lot of performance bonuses for both the player and Mount Pleasant…they are modest and I think the player will reach and exceed these expectations.”
The transfer is being seen by Professional Football Jamaica Limited (PFJL), managers of the JPL since 2020, not just as a stellar accomplishment for Mount Pleasant but as validation of initiatives which they began implementing three years ago to commercialise and promote the league.
CEO of PFJL Owen Hill believes the current business ecosystem created by the league played a significant role in enabling the transfer of Stewart to Salernitana. The league has been focused on developing revenue streams, namely broadcasting, sponsorship, merchandising, betting, gate receipts and player sales — the most lucrative stream.
But Hill pointed out that the success of player sales relies on the other streams functioning well. He noted that the league is already seeing players moving in significant numbers to other countries which was unheard of, and he attributes this to increased visibility from broadcasting.
“The league has to be broadcast so a scout doesn’t have to fly to Jamaica to watch a single game per se,” the CEO said. “They are looking at tapes, they are looking at overall clips of the players. So if we don’t have proper broadcasting in place then the chances of a player moving is going to be low. And again, that’s a part of the ecosystem.”
Christopher Williams, chairman of the PFJL, also affirmed the significance of a healthy ecosystem emphasising that the six revenue streams that have been developed are all progressing successfully.
“The strategy is working,” he affirmed. “Sponsorship is up, broadcast numbers are up, viewership is up. We’ve increased our betting income going into this new season. Merchandise is on board. We launched replica sales in 2022 and we are continuing to push replica sales. Gate [receipts] — as you saw Sabina Park was jam-packed [for the play-offs]. We have to keep working on that. We need better gate during the preliminary rounds, not just in the play-offs. So we are zoned in on trying to make the preliminary games more attractive so that we get a solid three to four thousand at each venue, each weekend.”
Both PFJL officials highlighted the work Mount Pleasant has been doing to build its brand, with Williams praising the amount of investment the club has made in its football programme especially its youth development, while Hill lauded their persistence in pursuing a clear strategy and vision backed by solid administrative governance, marketing, organisational structure and financial resources.
The club, formed in 2016, is a relative newcomer and has already won the league for the first time in 2023.
“They just kept at it,” Hill said. “This is just one outcome of a bigger plan and it really is just another step on the ladder going forward. So they expect to transfer away more players.”
Mount Pleasant’s Sporting Director Christie outlined the club’s transfer philosophy.
“What we are accustomed to hearing in Jamaica is [that we are] giving away our best players on loan,” he lamented. “We want to change that script. We want to add value to both our league and our players. Player sales is the number one revenue stream. However, [local] clubs will not be sustainable if European clubs come and take our best assets with a hope that they will perform and then they make an offer after that. No, you want our talent then pay for it.”
Christie explained that for the club’s growth, it is essential to establish collaborations, partnerships, and relationships with a two-way benefit, particularly from a European perspective.
Mount Pleasant have actively engaged in collaborations with agents and stakeholders in Europe and are also aggressively pursuing opportunities in emerging markets, such as the Middle East.
“If we approach it the right way and do an analysis of what they are expecting and present accordingly, then we will be OK,” the sporting director stated. “That means we have a long-term and sustainable operation.”
While not all the clubs within the JPL may have the resources of a Mount Pleasant, there are developments within the league that will give all clubs increased assistance in realising player sales and investing in greater professionalisation of their organisations.
Next season, for example, data will be collected from Premier League games on an ongoing basis for the Wyscout professional football platform which facilitates scouting, match analysis and ultimately player transfers.
“Wyscout gives you data and data is what drives player sales,” Hill underscored. “Our relationship with Wyscout, which is now Hudl, will augment all the necessary elements that will cause all the clubs…to become better.”
Moving beyond just assisting clubs to realise player sales, PFJL Chairman Williams added that the league is also actively working to help clubs access capital.
“We already announced earlier this year that NCB Capital Markets is working with two clubs on an IPO and they are still doing the prospectus as we speak,” he informed. “And then three additional clubs, we are negotiating with private investors to step in and acquire ownership stakes in those three clubs.”
Williams urges clubs to keep focusing on their youth programmes and building a strong pool of players for potential international transfers while benefiting from the increasing returns of the league’s revenue streams.
This strategy has been the focus of Mount Pleasant Football Academy articulated by Christie.
“The real economic benefit will be for player export internationally so that in five years Mount Pleasant will be a self-sustainable organisation,” the club’s sporting director insisted. “That is our aim and that is what we are working towards.”