Franchises explained

Written and researched by Leonard Solms with contributions by Extra Time Media reporters. Last updated: 24 October 2019.

One of the more curious aspects of the Premier Soccer League (PSL) is the buying and selling of Premier Division status. Although controversial, it has been part and parcel of South African football throughout the PSL era.

How buying and selling PSL status works

South African Premier Division licenses are available on the free market, meaning that they can be bought and sold by anyone, even if it means a club needs to be renamed and relocated. A prime example was the purchase of Mpumalanga Black Aces by John Comitis, which was followed by renaming to Cape Town City and relocation to the Mother City.

This, of course, came at a cost for football fans in Mpumalanga. However, they were forced to make do with a letter from club chairmen Mario Morfou and George Morfou explaining that Comitis had made them an offer which they simply could not refuse.

Cape Town City had not existed for some decades before Comitis revived the club, but it is also possible for already operating clubs to essentially buy their way up the ranks.

Durban’s AmaZulu controversially bought Thanda Royal Zulu’s Premier Division status after failing to secure promotion in 2016-17.

“This is daylight robbery and betrayal of the highest order,” uMhlathuze mayor Mdu Mhlongo was quoted as saying by the Mail & Guardian at the time of the sale.

“The people of uMhlathuze … invested their hearts when the club was struggling and supported it with all they had until the glory days.

“Taxpayers’ money was invested in improving the stadium to accommodate the club’s success. Just recently, R14‑million worth of Fifa-accredited stadium lights were installed and more improvements in the facility worth millions are underway, which will go down the drain if the sale goes through,” he said.

Soccer franchise systems in other countries

It certainly isn’t something which happens everywhere. Even Rangers, arguably Scotland’s most successful club, had to restart from the fourth tier after liquidation and moving to a new company structure.

The relocation of Wimbledon Football Club from London to Milton Keyes in 2003 was a controversial and rare example of an English football club being uprooted from its traditional home.

Wimbledon had risen from non-league soccer to become FA Cup champions in 1988 and regulars in the newly-formed Premier League in the years that followed.

But financial difficulties followed the sale of the club by owner Sam Hammam to Norweigian investors in 1997, along with the sale of Wimbledon’s Plough Lane stadium for redevelopment.

Waiting in the wings was a consortium led by businessman Pete Winkelman, who had been unsuccessful in luring several other teams in the south-east of England to the new town of Milton Keynes, 87 kilometres north of London.

The Football League refused permission for the club to be moved, only for a three-man panel appointed by the English Football Association to sanction an unprecedented upheaval in the modern English game.

Fans of the original club almost unanimously switched their allegiance to phoenix club AFC Wimbledon, whose rise from the very bottom back to the professional game became a second fairytale.

Newly formed as MK Dons, the shell of the old club kicked off the 2004/05 season in their new city before opening their 30 000-seat Stadium MK home in 2007.

The clubs first met on the field in a 2012 FA Cup tie before AFC Wimbledon’s rise was in a sense completed when the sides took part in a League One fixture against each other for the first time in 2016.

However, a notable difference between this case and that of Mpumalanga Black Aces, to name one, is that Mpumalanga Black Aces was a thriving PSL side at the time of their sale to John Comitis and subsequent relocation, whereas Wimbledon were purportedly in financial trouble and no longer played in the top flight. MK Dons started out in League One, where Wimbledon left off.

Premier Division status purchases

Below is a list of Premier Division Status purchases in the PSL era, which started in the 1996-97 campaign. The table does not include purchasing of status below the Premier Division or transactions which took place prior to the PSL era.

1996Michau WarriorsCrystal Brains
1999Mother City FCSpurs
2002PSLRia Stars
2002PSLFree State Stars
2004Benoni Premier UnitedHellenic
2005Maritzburg UnitedTembisa Classic
2007Thanda Royal ZuluBenoni Premier United
2007Platinum StarsHP Silver Stars
2016Cape Town CityMpumalanga Black Aces
2017AmaZuluThanda Royal Zulu