Is this a joke?
October 20, 2017
Nigerian Football League

Nigerian Football League

One always remembers that Nigerians are football-mad when GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAL! rings through the neighborhood every Premier League weekend, Champions League and Europa League weekday and, by Summer 2018, World Cup every day.

And you contemplate the level of madness even more when grown men in bars and clubs, offices and buses argue over which millionaire player doesn’t know how to hold up play and which billionaire owner should spend more or sell the club.

Then you marvel upon finding out that Nigerians have the highest rates of football interest and participation in the world at 83% and 65% (Nielsen) and that Lagos was second to London for the number of replica Chelsea shirts sold worldwide in 2014.

Why has this madness not translated to Nigeria’s domestic league, The Nigerian Professional Football League?

Why is Dangote looking to buy Arsenal FC when he hasn’t owned a team in what should be a viable football nation? Why isn’t Chivita sponsoring Enyimba FC rather than blowing millions of dollars to have Manchester United players swim in a sea of Orange Juice in their TV ads?

Yes, sports policy in Nigeria is messed up with a lot of room for malfeasance as most clubs are state-owned, so politics play a role in club mismanagement. The salaries are low and players unpaid most of the time, causing them to look for the quickest route to the exits provided by footballing giants like Azerbaijan and Oman. Asides these, the major problem plaguing the NPFL is marketing.

The Nigerian Football Federation and League Management Company have done a bad job of marketing the league such that it becomes economically viable given Nigeria’s football-craziness making it attractive to private investors, sponsors, buyers of broadcast rights and the Nigerian football fans by failing to appropriately utilize the core marketing mix to meet the needs of the Nigerian football audience. The LMC needs to re-evaluate its Product, the Price at which it sells this product, the Place(s) where it will be consumed and the ways in which it Promotes the product.

The Nigerian Professional Football League’s Product is entertainment. Not football, not ticket sales, not players, but entertainment wherever fans choose to enjoy the sport; the enjoyment derived when fans watch and talk about football, the feeling that fans get when players do great things on the field of play. The atmosphere and activities around the match in the stadium. That is the product.

Part of that product also includes the on-field display of skilled players but there need to be more than that. A day spent at a football match should be an experience to remember, a time when people come not just to enjoy the play on the pitch but for the spectacle of the occasion and the camaraderie with other fans.

This boils down to each team putting in some effort to integrate the fan experience into their gameday preparations. Are fans integrated into the day through competitions and other opportunities to win things on the pitch? What about halftime shows with local musicians and returning heroes? Even mascots and cheerleaders serve a purpose in entertaining fans and filling seats.

The processes and methods used to bring the NPFL’s product to the Nigerian football fans need to be looked into. For a long time, the only way to watch Nigeria’s top league was via DSTV which is reported to have less than 5 million subscribers; not that big a dent in a country of 180 million. For the exclusive rights to air football matches (a mass market product) to be held by a company with few viewers does the league a disservice. The league and its product need to be placed where more Nigerians will have a chance to view it.

Only with greater viewership will brands be enticed to partner and advertise with the league’s properties, turning in higher rates thereby improving revenue, profitability and attractiveness to other investors.

Thankfully, reports suggest that the NPFL is in talks with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) to establish a joint venture that would serve as the production company for the league. Hopefully, this will mean that soon the NFPL will be available on the NTA network (the most widely available network) in the 36 states of Nigeria and the FCT. Showcasing the “local team” in each state will be huge improvement on the status quo.

How does the Nigerian public get to know about what goes on in the local league? Is it just the 2-minute segment dedicated to NPFL scores wedged between the highlight packages of European leagues or at the end of a local news broadcast?

How can the league get its stars known by the regular man on the street? The league’s stars - a major part of the product - are the figureheads that should represent the league, hence there should be a concerted effort to have them known and seen, not the bureaucrats and politicians we see all time.

Think about how the American National Basketball Association and its partners regularly have NBA stars on National Television, being interviewed. Or somewhat closer to home, the Nigerian female bobsled team who have become stars by their television appearances (albeit in the USA) and now star in an international advertising campaign for Beats by Dre headphones.

Opportunities need to be set up for NPFL stars to be established and seen on the national stage and if media training needs to be undergone, then it should be organized for the improvement of the players and the league. At the team level, teams need to engage more with their local communities. Only then will they become better known within their communities and the beginnings of loyalty can be fostered. From simple things like visiting local schools to work out with kids who may never meet a professional football player to community service exercises, these activities will endear teams to their localities and create fans with a strong connection to the team and its players.

The NPFL has a chance to become a major force in the Nigerian society and entertainment sector by harnessing the ready-made market of highly engaged fans using deliberate strategic marketing.

Here’s hoping the new season serves as an inflection point to greatness.