Question: It bleeds my heart to notice the huge amount of accolade, excitement, and euphoria exhibited by Nigerians towards international football tournaments these days, while local equivalents (e.g. the Nigeria Premier League or NPL) are fast dwindling in insignificance. I know some marketing tips, from a guru like you, will help throw light on what could be done to rekindle public interest in the NPL, as this will aid football in Nigeria. Your view in this regard will be highly appreciated – L. Mbachu
I can still recall how, as school boys in the 1970s, we would ‘keep our ears glued’ to “Radio Nigeria” (which was about the only broadcast medium that carried network programmes in those days) to monitor the performance of our star players during the finals of the ‘Academicals Football Championship’ – A football contest which had the best of stars at the secondary school level of various States. Of course, records are there to substantiate that then Bendel State, which always had my support as a student of the Federal Government College, Warri, often carried the day.
About a decade after, the demand for establishing a “Professional League” was almost at fever pitch. All sorts of reasons for professional football were bandied, that some of us (ardent fans) were made to conjure ‘mental pictures’ of football in Nigeria becoming exactly what obtained in Europe. Nevertheless, one’s expectations materialized with the formation of the Pro League in 1990, which later metamorphosed to today’s Nigeria Premier League (NPL). This came into existence to modernize football and make clubs self-sufficient, with several other advantages.
Nigeria’s impressive rating at international football competitions during most of 1990s, along with the drift of several of its star players to football clubs in Europe; coupled with the impact of globalization (fostered immensely by access to international communications media networks) propelled a shift of attention of football lovers here towards happenings outside the country’s shores. This culminated in Nigerians knowing more of foreign football clubs like Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City, AC Milan, Barcelona, Real Madrid, etc, and less of activities of local club sides (e.g. Heartland, Sunshine Stars, Enyimba, Warri Wolves, Enugu Rangers, Dolphins, Shooting Stars, Sharks, etc).
Football fans in Nigeria can thump their chests about what foreign stadia (e.g. Emirate, Stanford bridge, Nou Camp, Old Trafford, etc) look like, and are less interested in football tournament venues in the country. As regards players, the typical Nigerian football lover can even reel out the history of stars like Drogba, Aguero, Messi, Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic, Evra, Balotelli, Ribery, Lampard, Torres, Robben and the like. The local counterparts such as Ofem Inah, Gambo Mohammed, Cletus Itodo, Okorie Ikechukwu, Stanley Dimgba, Nasiru Ali, etc, do not ring any bell.
It is a trend around that even analysts seem to be more adept with happenings in the English Premier League (EPL), the Spanish “La Liga”, the Italian “Seria A”, French League 1, and the German “Bundesleaga”. It has been quite a while since I noticed any stadium here being filled to maximum capacity in any of the local matches (often less than 25 percent of the 30,000 to 45,000 maximum seating of these stadia). One must not fail to point out my experience recently when fireworks illuminated the night sky and loud bang of toy explosives heard all over, as mark of celebrations by Chelsea’s supporters on the club’s defeat of Bayern Munich at the UEFA Champion League final match. This was indeed a celebration galore near what often occurred during early hours of every New Year Day.
For the renown Nigerian passion for football to have shifted from what obtained in the 1970s, through the 80s, to most of the 1990s and a situation where a football fan would celebrate the victory of an European club side (not even being aware of match fixtures of the NPL), some unsavoury developments in the country’s football scene must be liable. Applying marketing to this situation, it should be perceived as that of customers’/consumers’ declined interest in a once preferred product. The “product” here simply being local football matches (as organised by the NPL), while fans and lovers of this sport comprising the “consumers”. Before providing tips on what should be done to revive public/consumers’ interest in Nigerian football, firstly consider these as my perceived areas of problems presently:
- With the advent of globalization, all football competitions of countries of the world seem to be competing. Globalization depicts an all embracing term for the emergence of a global society in which economic, political, environmental, and cultural events in one part of the world quickly come to have significance for people in other parts. It is indeed boosted by advances in communication, transportation, and information technologies. Going by standard of organisation and quality of players, the EPL, La Liga, Seria A, Bundesleaga, Ligue 1 of this world have obviously stolen the show from our local league, which tends to fall short in comparative terms. The typical Nigerian ardent football fan has become exposed to these foreign tournaments (with the easy access to various shades of communications media) that we can easily discern where the ‘consumer’s choice’ lies in this regard.
- Organising bodies of Nigerian football tend to be run more as government’s department rather than playing up the business angle. Who says, the NPL can not be privatized, whereby the private sector is encouraged to invest in it? I urge the Nigerian Football Federation, NFF (the regulator of the NPL) to be more creative in order to be more independent of both the federal and states’ governments.
- Lack of adequate funding is obviously a problem area, as the dismal level of the number of paying spectators to NPL organized matches obviously affects its purse (reduced gate takings, and sponsorship).
- Bad officiating of many NPL organised matches seems to be the order of the day. No wonder, spectators’ assault of referees seems to be on the upscale.
(To be continued)
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