The NPFL: Between us and our game (Part 2)

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Long awaited abridged 2018/19 NPFL season resumes seven months after
By Fred Edoreh

Many stakeholders in Nigerian football are understandably anxious to see the advancement of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), not only for national pride and the pleasure of sporting entertainment but as well for the economic opportunities it contributes to nation building.

Just as debates about the effectiveness of players, coaches and tactics in teams often get emotive with almost every fan claiming expertise in coaching, so too do conversations about strategies for the enhancement of the fortunes of the league become animated with mixtures of facts, knowledge and, sometimes, pitiable ignorance.

Beyond the incurable pessimists driven by their loss of entitlement from the dismantling of the plunderous old order to perennially throw spanner in the works, genuine stakeholders need to recognise the deficits from where our club football is coming and the political disruptions that have slowed down implementation of some novel programs, to perspectively situate issues with the correct vibes.

Faced with the drawbacks in the domestic business and infrastructural architecture and building practically from ground zero, the LMC has kept focus and searching even beyond our shores for solutions on re-engineering an enduring foundation for the production, commercialisation and redirection of the competitiveness of the NPFL in the global football economy, for now and the future.

After the exit of the former league broadcaster, the LMC rallied to secure an advanced engagement with FOX Network Group whose top delegation subsequently met with representatives of Nigerian big corporates, the leaderships of the NFF, LMC and club owners, in a confidential breakfast meeting at Eko Hotel in March 2018, to unveil its partnership plans towards a complete turnaround of the NPFL and Nigeria’s football within the same framework it did with Netherlands Eredivisie.

Prior to the meeting, FOX had already penned a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) with the LMC in which it had also agreed on due diligence undertaking and a draft Joint Venture Agreement for the optimization of the commercial and media rights of the NPFL.

Unfortunately, the political attacks on the NFF after the 2018 World Cup and the toxic climate that was generated against the nation’s entire football structure scared them away and destroyed the opportunity.

Undaunted, the LMC kept pushing and finally struck the current partnership with NEXT TV Digital to produce the league matches, highlights and magazine shows. NEXT will also pay for broadcast on OTT while both parties will market the products to willing mobile, terrestrial and cable television concerns to ensure the widest distribution of the league contents as well as activate various social media and digital marketing platforms to reach and earn revenue from Nigerian and global audience.

The plan also includes establishing NPFL TV, a channel to drive the distribution and commercialization of NPFL contents.

Interestingly, though NEXT TV has not fully rolled out, it has made financial commitments to the LMC and it is with that sign-up fund, revenue from other existing partnerships and savings from the prudent management of previous sponsorship funds that it has sustained the league deprived of its broadcast revenue.

In this digital age, despite the need to grow physical match attendance, much of league spectatorship and revenue streams would be through personal electronic devices and with over 170 million mobile phones in Nigeria and the league also exposed to audiences beyond our borders, the OTT presents a huge new market for the future.

A match with say 30,000 stadium spectators can as well have a home and digital audience of over one million. If we have just 500,000 subscribers from even just home fans and the Diaspora at $5 per month for full subscriptions, just the OTT can deliver a revenue in excess of $30m a year.

With added revenue potentials from Mobile, Cable TV, Free to Air TV, Video on Demand, advertising, sponsorship and other revenue streams under this commercial structure, the league, in the long term, can gross over $100m annually while at same time creating a visible platform for clubs to develop their direct revenue capabilities.

Indeed, the digital market has begun to disrupt the conventional television broadcast system with even higher bids for sports and entertainment properties. It is therefore only reasonable to change the old mindset and begin to re-position now.

In pursuit of expanded commercial framework, the LMC, with the endorsement of the NPFL clubs, reviewed its marketing strategy since 2015 and opted to jettison the title sponsorship system, which had been from 2006 to the advent of the LMC in 2013, in preference for multiple sponsorship segment model based on industry differentiation. This is with a view to optimising commercial windows through cumulative revenue from multiple sponsors which will be higher than from a single title sponsors holder.

It is on this backdrop that it signed with Star (NB PLC), OCP, 1XBET and others, and the activation of the on-going broadcast and re-commercialisation process is expected to attract and drive in other elite sponsors into the NPFL at the right value.

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It is therefore incredulous that those who should understand the trend are kicking over the absence of a title sponsor when the EPL adopted the same model, eliminating title sponsorship driving by multiple sponsors since 2016 (now no more Barclays League but English Premier League) which goes to validate the decision of the LMC.

It is the successful gestation of the new commercialisation design that will provide the life blood for clubs to invest in facilities, organisation, logistics and welfare to achieve profitable commercial outcomes and the elevated outlooks that we all desire.

True, rules are meant to be enforced but, given the peculiarity of our environment, the LMC has considered that the expulsion of clubs based on strict applications, when virtually all the clubs are in shortfall of critical infrastructure and funds to achieve desired standards, will serve only to blow hot air.

No doubt, the outlook and performance of the clubs leave so much to be desired but, reasonably, what is needed in the circumstance is consensus building for collective push towards the right new direction.

It is for this reason the LMC introduced the program code named “Beyond the Three Points” so as to keep engaging and reminding the clubs of the work that needs to be done outside just playing football so as to create the right environment for the business of club football to thrive.

For instance, with perhaps Nigeria’s most successful club, Enyimba, having a social media community of about 120,000 to rank 63rd in Africa, compared to Al Ahli’s 27m and Zamalek’s 12m, the clubs should understand that they need to up their presence and engagement in the social media market, especially seeing how some of the top European clubs earn millions of Euro per annum from various social media and digital formats.

Still, their ability to provide sellable exclusive contents would depend on production capacity and skilled personnel both on individual level and from the processes the LMC is putting in place. But, even now, they can challenge themselves to increase their presence through resourcefulness and creativity to provide windows for advertisers and sponsors to associate and reach their followers.

It is about eyeballs and this applies to all sports in Nigeria. For instance, it has been interesting to see the traditional sport of Dambe which is less institutionally supported pulling up into the global arena, even if with a humble 100,000 views on a video, through the sheer efforts of its digital promoters.

Thankfully, the various state governments which promote majority of the clubs now understand the need for a re-focus on commercialisation and have committed to opening up their holdings for partnerships with possible equity on facilities while the LMC has signed an MOU with NASD OTC Exchange to assist them in the process.

It is as part of the drive that the LMC had to take Nigerian club managers to on-the-spot training in Spain and the Lagos Business School among other several capacity development training , to acquaint them first hand with the critical rudiments of running clubs as business and the various revenue streams and marketing tools and strategies employable.
With work in progress, the LMC has also not neglected improving the technical capacity of the game. Even though it is essentially the call of the sports establishment, as a matter of nation building, to create institutions and regular programmes for the training and retraining of national coaches in all sports, even as it behoves individual coaches and their clubs to invest in themselves and improve their personnel, but the LMC, through its partnership with the Spanish Football League, continues to organise annual advanced training clinics for coaches in various tiers of the league with over 500 coaches trained and certified over the last 3 years.

There is also a specific elite coaching programme, through its partnership with Star (NB PLC), in which coaches from top European clubs come to interact with those of the 20 NPFL clubs on the update of skills and tactics.

The LMC has also maintained the same effort to support talent development through its NPFL Futures programme for club youth teams, notwithstanding that it is actually the business of individual clubs to invest on their Feeder Teams as a strategy to reduce expenditure on signing new players from outside their communities and also to earn revenue through players transfer.

So much said, it is left for stakeholders in the Nigerian football league to lock hands together and pull in the same direction on which basis success will be guaranteed or choose to pull the institutions and their leaderships down for narrow interests.

Concluded

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