KEIR RADNEDGE in MONTEVIDEO: Uruguay’s national team squad has played a central role in trying to refinance the domestic game by driving up commercial revenues stuck at pauper level by the federation’s long-term deal with the Tenfield broadcasting group.
Tenfield was founded in 1998 by the businessmen Francisco ‘Paco’ Casal and fronted by old heroes Enzo Francescoli and Nelson Gutiérrez. Initially it bought out exclusive rights to Uruguayan league coverage but now owns a wide range of national and international broadcasting rights.
Along the way Tenfield also bought control of the commercial rights of the federation including the national team whose kit contract it subcontracted to Puma.
This was long accepted as the best, or only, deal in town until questions began to be raised last year after the United States Justice Department targeted the role played in the FIFAGate corruption farrago by Eugenio Figueredo former Sports Minister, AUF president and then subsequently CONMEBOL head and FIFA vice-president.
Simultaneously leading clubs and the players’ union went to court with a complaint that Figueredo and the then secretary-general of CONMEBOL Gorka Villar (son of senior FIFA and UEFA vice-president Angel Maria Villar) had threatened exclusion from South American competitions unless they dropped a demand for monies they believed due from the CONMEBOL commercial and TV kitty.
This sparked a new look at the AUF’s two-decade-long deal with Tenfield which expires on December 31 and has now come up for renewal.
Tenfield, according to sources close to the UAF, had already reached an informal agreement to extend the current contract for two years at what is, in this day and football age, a pitiful $750,000-a-year.
Executives were apparently confident that its long-term influence with the clubs virtually guaranteed acceptance, with Puma continuing to put up the bulk of the money.
However the Celeste’s European-based stars had been considering other solutions.
New Balance and Canadian newcomer Dry World were ready to top the Tenfield extension but dwarfing any other proposal was an offer from Nike worth between $2.5m and $3.5m-a-year over seven years.
Shortly before last week’s vote by the general assembly of the AUF, the national team players made their feelings plain.
Initially an open letter appeared on the website of captain Diego Godin, of Atletico Madrid, but was soon taken up by team-mates. In it the players made plain that they wanted the AUF to accept the Nike deal for the good of all of Uruguayan football which had been starved of funds for too long.
Not only that but, as the players were acutely aware, the debt-laden AUF was four months behind in paying the salaries of the technical staff of the national team who face Argentina this week in an important 2018 World Cup qualifier.
By 10 votes to nine the assembly instructed the AUF to sort out a pre-contract with Nike. In favour were Nacional, Sud América, Fénix, Defensor Sporting, Danubio, Plaza Colonia, Rampla Juniors, Wanderers, the regional lagues and the Segunda División Amateur. The nine opposed were Peñarol, Cerro, River Plate, Boston River, Juventud, Villa Española, Liverpool, Racing and the Segunda División Profesional.
A Penarol spokesman justified the status quo stance of the former world and South American chanmpions on the grounds that Tenfield had stood behind Uruguayan game in good years and bad and was owed a reciprocal debt of loyalty.
All settled? Not at all.
The terms of the current contract give Tenfield three weeks in which to notify the AUF about whether it wishes to match or exceed any new offer. In that case it will have until January 30 to submit a counter bid.
Tenfield is expected to go down that route and play for time while it explores whether Puma is prepared to go toe-to-financial-toe with Nike.