What Team Won the 2019 Nigerian Football Professional League?
By Lande Abudu (Ms. Football)
“Every stadium across the country had a good share of fans and there are numerous stories about the heydays of Nigerian football. A picture widely circulated across sports platforms has shown us how full the stadium was for a 1978 match between Rangers of Enugu and Bendel Insurance of Benin. Passion needs to be nurtured. For the EPL to get to where it is today, a lot of investment has gone into it. As the game evolved, a lot of thinking went into creating an appealing product. Enter the big television deal that changed weekend football from community-centred affairs to the multibillion-dollar entertainment colossus that we enjoy today”.
It started with a simple question – who could name the 2019 Nigerian Football Professional League champions? There were some attempts and a few left-of-the-mark guesses but nobody in the small gathering could answer.
Naturally, this led to the long-standing discussion about why so many Nigerians follow the European leagues, especially the English Premier League, EPL more than our local leagues.
Why is it that the average Nigerian football fan can name Manchester United’s first team and their jersey numbers but cannot tell Plateau United from Akwa United and certainly cannot tell you the name of their home stadium, current manger or name 2 players in each team? More Nigerian fans know that Hollywood star Ryan Reynolds has inquired about investing in Wrexham football club, currently in the fifth tier of English football. They know that there were 44 goals scored in the opening weekend of the EPL, one more than the previous season. We are current on all such football trivia, so far they are about foreign football leagues. It brings to mind the lamentation of a fan, “I just weep for our nation as I watch British football. There is more value in the Championship, not even the EPL than the Nigerian Premier League.”
Onto the chicken and the egg situation: following Nigerian local leagues holds little appeal. This leads to scant followership. Without followership, there is no incentive for investment in game. With no investment, the leagues cannot grow, and the cycle continues. The argument that with more local support, Nigerian football leagues would be in a better position, no longer holds water. Nigerians are passionate about sports and will support local sportspeople. In the past, this was the case. Every stadium across the country had a good share of fans and there are numerous stories about the heydays of Nigerian football. A picture widely circulated across sports platforms has shown us how full the stadium was for a 1978 match between Rangers of Enugu and Bendel Insurance of Benin. Passion needs to be nurtured.
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For the EPL to get to where it is today, a lot of investment has gone into it. As the game evolved, a lot of thinking went into creating an appealing product. Enter the big television deal that changed weekend football from community-centred affairs to the multibillion-dollar entertainment colossus that we enjoy today. The difference lies in the fact that the EPL collaborated with the media and sponsors to create a product for entertainment. Excellent marketing has seen revenues grow in proportion with increasing television audiences. Now the most successful clubs earn annual revenues in the hundreds of millions. Matchday revenue has become less of the mainstay than commercial and broadcasting revenues. Overseas investment has transformed many clubs, thereby increasing the global appeal, with the attendant success. Brand EPL continues to innovate and create more content. Spin off programmes, social media tie-ins, opportunities with the betting industry and more.
Even with the new coronavirus restrictions and no fans allowed at any stadium, fake crowd noise has been incorporated for live matches and the digital platforms are being explored for a pivot. You must innovate or die. Sports is firstly for entertainment and recreation, but the economics of sports has to be carefully factored in.
To get anywhere close to the success of brand EPL, there must be a deliberate strategy to build a country-specific brand that will appeal to fans. The good news is that under the leadership of the current minister of Youth and Sports Development, this is a focus. Sports is being reclassified as a business, with effort concentrated on creating the best business model. Creating value for all stakeholders will ensure enduring success.
For the record, the answer to the question in the headline is Enyimba International Football Club.
Lande is Executive Secretary, Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria and is a member of the Segun Odegbami-anchored Sports Parliament