Soccer in Nigeria will soar if we tailor it to business, not the patronage to lackeys that currently is across the country.The advantages Nigeria will derive from running soccer like the business that it is (the way saner countries have been doing for decades), are endless.
For instance, a 2019 report by EY’s Economic and Social Impact Assessment said the English Premier League and its clubs supported close to 100,000 jobs and contributed £7.6 billion to the United Kingdom (UK)’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
In 2009, the rugby series between the Springboks and the British & Irish Lions boosted the South Africa economy by almost R1.5billion, a study commissioned by SA Rugby revealed.
This converts to nearly N36billion. In just one sport alone. The public interest in the ten-match series, and the impact of the arrival of 37 000 visitors from Britain and Ireland, generated R1,47bn in direct and indirect value to the travel and tourism gross domestic product (GDP) of South Africa.
The six-week tour produced close to a tenth (8,95%) of South Africa’s annual tourism GDP (based on 2008 figures) said the survey prepared by Octagon Marketing in conjunction with Kamilla-SA Sport and Tourism Consultancy and Umcebisi Business Advisors.
10 years on, why can’t Nigeria, with Africa’s biggest economy and population replicate this success in, football, the king of sports?
Why, for instance, isn’t any of our clubs listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange?
If we organise ourselves and run our soccer in a transparent, business-minded way, it will thrive enough to attract juicy corporate sponsorships. Then those firms whose sponsorship offers don’t hit the mark with soccer, could be enticed to sponsor other sports such as basketball, athletics, badminton, tennis, table tennis, to mention a few, which are also money spinners in other climes.
Running our soccer across the country through the prism of marketing will only be possible if those entrusted with leadership positions will be accountable. Business enterprises are no charitable homes. They are in business to make profit and be accountable to the shareholders periodically at Annual General Meetings (AGMs).
To achieve some of these targets, we need to identify what we want to achieve and build on it. Most countries’ football growth is stemmed on grassroots communities such that when new talents are discovered, it is easy to know where it all started because each community will celebrate its own. Simply put, sports, not just soccer, grows its stem from the catchment areas from ages four to six, where the kids can be taught the rudiments of the game. Since such schemes pervade all the communities, blue-chip firms can identify with sports of their choices – most times soccer because of its immense followership. What the communities provide are platforms to discover, nurture and expose their young ones to games that they like.
These nurseries won’t be sustained if they don’t have academies and coaching clinics where trainers, coaches and others affiliated to the sport are trained and retrained on the new tricks of the games. The beauty of these academies is that they prepare kids in a few sports that they know their wards have comparative advantage over others.
These academies are regulated to avert sharp practices and to ensure that everything is done in sync with what operates at all levels of the sports. This way, once an athlete or footballer is incapacitated or injured, the coaches don’t need to scratch their heads. A phone call to the injured person’s replacement comes from the senior team’s manager after discussions with the age grade coaches. Such a player will definitely perform despite the short notice since all the national teams use the same template.
What these academies do is to provide the nurseries for younger players to emerge. This also guarantees that each of them is tracked throughout his career. Interestingly, it is at the academy level that the relevant data of the players are collated and processed in the course of the athlete/ footballer’s career. This system checkmates fraudulent acts such as the fielding of age-cheats during competitions. It corrects the Nigerian practice where camps are thrown open to all comers whose data is drawn from the information the person provides – most times manipulated.
With this flawed process, our age grade teams don’t eventually serve the purpose others use them for – nurseries to replace ageing, retired and injured players.
The essential ingredient in these academies overseas is that they introduce kids to the concept of combining education (school work) and sports with flexible curriculum. This way, the kids are taught how to prepare for their future and what to do in lieu of retirement. This seamless transition encourages others to embrace the academies, having seen what those before them achieved and what they are doing in retirement.
These European countries’ data are accessible on their websites at the press of a button, aside guiding them in their quest to track anyone who goes offline. Since these federations have all the players’ data, they protect them from signing Shylock contracts and help them when they have issues with the careers.
With this setting, the corporate world can identify with the nurseries, knowing that when these kids excel, their products and services will form the bedrock of rave reviews for such stars. The look and feel of brands’ outfits and other insignia on international platforms are immeasurable. This trend is sustained because accountability is like second nature – not negotiable.
All these novel incentives of the academies won’t happen without good playgrounds and facilities, which are usually provided by the government with enabling legislations to ensure that the grounds, stadia and facilities are not used for such nebulous activities as political rallies as is often the case in Nigeria.
It is a travesty that the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos, which has hosted many major sporting events, is derelict.
Sportscity hosted the All Africa Games in 1973. Recent heads of the sports ministry have paid lip service to revamping the facility. Politics has scuttled moves to acquire the SportsCity, especially by the Lagos State Government under former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, which sought to lease the place over a period. It is close to one year since the Lagos move, yet Sportscity remains an eyesore and a terrible citation on the way we allow edifices decay, as if we didn’t spend a fortune to build them.
We hosted the All Africa Games in 2003, using the competition to modernise our sporting facilities, which are now rustic due to poor vision of our sports administrators. If we had a maintenance culture, CAF would have asked us to host the competition, given our passion for football, our players’ exploits and the population to fill all the stadia during matches.
How would anyone ask for N60 million to plant grass on the Abuja National Stadium’s (now MKO Abiola stadium) pitch? Isn’t this the reason the place is decaying? Do we not have horticulturists to do the job? Don’t they know that horticulturists nurture grass before planting? After all, grass is everywhere in the country. Must we always siphon cash for every job? Why would the ministry demand N60 million from NFF to plant grass, yet they are talking about probity? If the ministry don’t know what to do with the place, they should lease it out and see how it will be a befitting edifice under a proper management.
Countries measure their growth in soccer by the number of domestic league players in the teams. The ripple effect of this is that the domestic league matches are watched by mammoth crowd weekly, invariably increasing that revenue of the domestic clubs. Our league games won’t attract foreigners like we had in the past, if we play on almost empty stadium and can’t offer good money to lure them here. It isn’t enough for government to fund clubs. The governors should ensure that credible people manage the teams.
They should be given targets and time lines to deliver on mandates given, otherwise they are asked to go. One of the targets governors should give to those who administer clubs is to ensure they are listed at the Stock Exchange. It is laughable that none of the clubs’ value is public knowledge. How then do they expect the blue-chip firms to do business with them?