The ISSA schoolboy football season for 2018 was launched on Wednesday, and already, there is a major buzz around the new sponsors and format. Kudos to telecoms giant Digicel, which has injected $75 million to secure title sponsorship of the Manning Cup and Walker Cup competitions over multiple seasons. Wisynco’s sponsorship also affords them title sponsorship of both the daCosta Cup and Ben Francis Cup competitions through their Wata brand, while KFC, Main Event and long-standing broadcasters SportsMax also join the sponsorship table. Congratulations to ISSA for securing these lucrative sponsorship deals, which will no doubt also provide support for other competitions on ISSA’s calendar. The huge injection of sponsorship also serves to make the upcoming season the biggest in schoolboy football history. Now there are some format changes that ISSA has made to the knockout competitions that were announced at the launch. The top eight teams from the Manning Cup and the daCosta Cup will now contest the all-island knockout, now titled the ISSA Champions Cup. The remaining quarter-finalists who do not advance in the Manning and daCosta Cup will now contest the Walker Cup and Ben Francis Cup, respectively. ISSA has made this experimental change in format with a view of limiting the instances of overwork that was present in former seasons, especially for the top teams that advanced in each competition. It is my belief that the overwork during the season was indeed worthy of analysis. I’ve noted in the past that some high-school football teams have played more matches in two weeks than most professional outfits play in a month. Some teams, particularly the rural ones that often have to travel long distances to fulfil their fixtures, have been known to make up to three trips for three matches in a week. The frequent travels and back-to-back matches may negatively impact the team’s preparation and account for match fatigue. Nobody wins in that scenario. FULLER’S POSITIVE IMPACT As it relates to the Walker and Ben Francis Cups, however, these are now a consolation prize that a non-advancing team may secure, tantamount, I suppose, to a Europa Cup win. Some schools that didn’t advance to the Champions Cup will now have a chance at another trophy. The wealth has been shared, so to speak. With that said, ISSA has indicated that this is an experimental change that they are open to tweaking if the outcome is not desirable. Quite an objective approach! Having sat at the sponsorship table in my role as head of marketing for SportsMax, I must say that I have been quite pleased with the creative ways in which each stakeholder/sponsor has pledged to contribute to the further development of Jamaica’s youth over this season. Digicel and SportsMax have retained a football ambassador in the form of former Reggae Boy Ricardo Fuller. Fuller will be on the island to engage in a series of mentorship sessions at a few institutions at the start of the season. CONSOLATION PRIZE With Fuller’s wealth of knowledge and expertise in coming through the ranks of the ISSA schoolboy competition from Camperdown to Tivoli Gardens FC to the Reggae Boyz to Stoke City in the English Premier League, he has made a positive impact and will no doubt be able to impart some of what he has learnt to our student-athletes. KFC’s Andrei Roper also announced that for each goal scored in the first round of the Manning Cup and daCosta Cup competitions, Restaurants of Jamaica will donate $500 to the school-feeding programme of the scoring school at the basic and primary levels. With an analysis of last season, Roper explained that there were some 2,000 goals scored, and thus, they’re looking at a possible contribution of over $1,000,000. Even the primary and basic schools are benefitting from the exploits of our schoolboy footballers! Great job, KFC! And so, our season kicks off on September 8, and we look forward to seeing who will be crowned champions this time around. There are some six trophies up for grabs. May the best schools win! One love.