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This article presents proposals that have the potential to transform the nation's domestic football scene

GUEST FEATURE
By Sulaiman Adebayo

Over the years, since the first season of the Nigerian Premier League, we have seen growth over growth and development upon development. We have seen great times, times of tears of joy in the eyes of spectators; we have seen tense times of broken bottles, sporadic stone throws, and acclaimed poor officiating.

We have seen it all!

Amidst the high hopes of development, we still suffer challenges ranging from security to sub-standard facilities, to poor officiating, and to a low media presence. At the very start of my piece, mention must be made of the quite interesting and organised last season that had the League Management Company (LMC) at the helm of affairs.  

It is indisputable that, with the recent deal with broadcast rights holders, SuperSport, LMC’s effort on the promotion of the NPL is highly commendable.  One huge thing Nigerians have had to bear over the years has been the appalling media attention of our league. Even the blind man on the streets knows how much regular live coverage of our league will generate followers.

One cannot imagine the extent of the increase in the commercial value of the NPL if this seemingly tall order is largely achieved. Meanwhile, as close as our destination appears, the road to it is much longer than we can naturally imagine.


The NPFL Performance & Club Ownership

One only needs to do a brief review of the Nigerian Premier League before one agrees that government do not have business in business. Private individuals or companies should own clubs to enhance growth, development and profit optimization.

A brief analysis of models of top foreign clubs would provide an insightful piece for the NPL structure.

The models are highlighted and discussed here:

i. Fan Club Ownership: This is simply a process where fans have a percentage stake in the ownership of clubs. This is evident in the Bundesliga where there is 51% fan ownership. This implies that fans will be highly involved in the management, running and operations of the club.

Fan ownership gives room for election of the management personnel that will have their collective interest at heart.

Kano Pillars and Enyimba command the biggest attendances, which could be translated into co-opting the teeming supporters to invest in the clubs with a view to one day owning them.

ii. Public Private Ownership: This is a model that sees government and private groups or individuals form a synergy with the collective interest of fans. This model will ensure good management, sponsorship and protection of the heritage of the clubs.

The government is not a profit-making enterprise and in this light, they only serve as regulators. The government can then select representatives that will have the collective interest of the private investors, as well as fans, at heart.

The newly-instituted management of Warri Wolves, led by former NPL chairman, Davidson Owumi as CEO) is a perfect example of this model.

iii. Sole Private Ownership: This model suggests complete individual ownership over the affairs of a club. Chelsea in England could be used as a clear example.

It is indisputable that private ownership is on the rise in other sectors in Nigeria. Perhaps the government are beginning to realize that they cannot continue to take full control of businesses in all sectors.

This global trend (private ownership) is by far the most appreciable model for the sustenance of any football league.

iv. Board Private Ownership: This model suggests private individuals as shareholders in clubs. The collective interest of fans and management of clubs will be decided during board meetings.

This can be achieved in Nigeria where the system encourages notable individuals, with the love for the beautiful game, to own a club and its management.

Nigerian football clubs stand to benefit immensely from the investment of private suitors, at least as much as these private individuals invest for the benefit of business and for the love of the beautiful game.

The only standing private owned club in the top flight last season was ABS FC (formerly Bukola Babes) and Nembe City, however ABS were relegated from the GLO NPFL on the final day of week 38, with fixtures on 20th October, 2013.


The LMC Performance Last Season

The LMC have done some good for the league. As everyone knows, the LMC under the directives of the NFF, have the mandate to manage the league and engage corporate sponsors as financial drivers of the league.

How far have we gone?

It is worthy of note to mention that the LMC did a great job to secure the league sponsorship of the NPFL with the 3-year deal signed by telecommunication giant, Globacom Nigeria, of approximately 1.89 billion Naira in May 2013.

The deal secures an average of 550 million Naira for the NPL annually for the next three years. The effort of LMC again secured a four-year deal with Africa’s largest sports-dedicated broadcast channel, Supersports, at a value of $34 million (approx. 5.4 billion Naira). The broadcast deal is no doubt the biggest TV deal in the history of Nigerian football.

The days of investing in the league may have just begun!

The TV deal may have obviously multiplied the commercial value of the league, thereby optimizing the business potentials of individual clubs. The live broadcast on Supersports is scheduled to commence in 2015/2016 season. Nigerians may now watch their favourite teams live on TV. With this huge media coverage, our league may be one of the highest investment centres by brands in the next 2/3 years. 

Brands in the brewery industry remain the highest sponsors of clubs in the league, with about 70% of total sponsorship. About 10% are sponsored by the Agro-Allied industry, while only about 20% are brands in varying other industries. The competition amidst the categories of industries may be seen as low. 

The league managers and clubs are expected to grow sponsorship through creative means; a revolving fund mechanism guarantees for a reliable and budding league system.

The LMC have so much to do in terms of new rules on the relationship between clubs and sponsors to avoid any form of abuse and questions of integrity.


Security & Officiating

Security is one of the biggest menaces in our league. Stadium violence, crowd disruptions and thugs’ invasion pose a disturbing trend and threaten the attractiveness of the league.

It is imperative for our league to begin to pay full attention to these parts of the league so as to increase its competitiveness and attractiveness. The security challenge must be fully attended to for an improved outing in ticketing and attendance.

The LMC must make sure severe sanctions are handed to clubs and fans that engage in violence during league matches. We saw punitive measures handed to erring clubs last season but the channels of reprimand must be consistent.

We used the word ‘consistent’ because different penalties were preferred to clubs that committed same offences which drew suspicious from the affected clubs who fingered the LMC as being influenced by ‘politicians’.

Meanwhile, poor officiating discourages fans, kills their confidence in the referees and makes the league unattractive. I must say that most of the violence in some league centres can be attributed to the poor officiating of referees.

While we admit that some of our referees are poor, we must give credit to deserving ones like Henry Ogunyamodi, Paul Umuago, AbduljelilAdeniran, Col. OluwoleFawole, Peter Edibi, ChrisantusOkoro et al who impressed last season.


The New Season (Expectations)

The new season started on March 7 with so much expectation. The LMC management had a success last season, but is not without its own share of criticisms.

The sponsorship deals (TV and League), regulations, standards and commandments introduced by the LMC have gone a long way in reshaping the league amidst so many impending challenges to combat in the league.

The performance of the league players at the 2014 African Nations Championship in South Africa is a golden testimony of the quality of playing personnel in the Nigerian league.

2014 CHAN MVP, Ejike Uzoenyi, as well as Barnabas Imenger, Shehu Abdullahi, Rabiu Ali, Abubakar Ibrahim, and Ebenezer Odunlami are all good ambassadors of the league.

The stadia used to stage the FIFA U20 World Cup in 1999 and the FIFA U17 World Cup 10 years later can be fully utilized to create a television-friendly atmosphere for the broadcast rights owners.

Clubs like Kano Pillars (Sani Abacha Stadium), Enyimba (Aba Township stadium), Enugu Rangers (Nnamdi Azikiwe stadium), Dolphins (Liberation Stadium), Sunshine Stars (Akure Township Stadium), Sharks (Sharks Stadium) and Gombe United (Pantami Stadium) can boast of good playing surfaces but a consistent follow-up on the state of these pitches is required.

I believe with the management of the clubs agreeing to the regulations and standards of the LMC, the league will be better for it.


 Recommendations

Some of the recommendations here are proposed for the NFF, the LMC and major stakeholders of the league:

I propose that the clubs should be run as business entities and as separate entities from the government.

Clubs should engage in foreign pre-season tours for players’ exposure, as this will better prepare them for continental championships.

Security is crucial and must be considered as a bigger task in the administration of the league.

Our referees must embark on courses to better their officiating of crucial matches.

And lastly, the Clubs must comply with all the new rules, regulations and standards of the LMC.

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