This article on how the Nigerian football authorities and indeed all stakeholders can help create a professional league that spins money, attracts top footballers from all over Africa and beyond, builds huge followership amongst sports loving Nigerians has been long in the making for over a year now. I had to summon the will to complete the entire write-up.
To create a successful football league one need not look further from the prime example of the English Premier League and one or two other European countries. Lessons also can even be taken from the resurgent Brazilian league that has witnessed the return of big name non-brazilian players (such as new AC milan manager Seerdof) towards the end of their career.
The Legal and Organisational Framework
To grow a league that pulls in billions and has high standards it has to begin with the organisational framework. Issues like minimum requirements for owning a club, minimum standards for running club finance etc are key to building a solid base for a thriving local league. For instance it is a long held view by many followers of the local football league that government should never have any business running football clubs. It is a view I strongly support. Governments getting involved in club management will always mean clubs and the league will be subject to political whims and caprices. The framework may allow government bodies to own a certain limit of a football club if need be but for a thriving league we should be looking at a completely independent league organising body with participating clubs as either limited corporations or publicly traded entities.
A good starting point is to realise that with a population of over 140 million the first audience to optimise and monetise from is the local football fans in Nigeria. Leagues like the Brazilian league do not have much export value in terms of TV viewership and revenue but makes up for that with their huge population of which a high percentage are football followers.
Same could be the case in Nigeria as it will be foolhardy to expect to build outright a league that will be exportable to the outside world economically. Since charity begins from home it therefore makes sense to organise the league in such a way to maximise the inherent commercial values in our large population. After that a modest target could be exporting commercially to West Africa and other parts of Africa.
Thus broadcast rights should be focused on being driven by the aim to maximise local audience which leads us to other important areas that will ensure this happens like; security, broadcast timing etc
With some effort to combat these challenges a good number of historical clubs like Rangers International, Shooting Stars, and recently successful ones like Enyimba FC can hope to revive strong local followership which local companies can as well try to tap into via moderate commercial sponsorships.
The goal for the league organisers should be to put in place legal frameworks to enable clubs earn reasonable income via sponsorships, advertisements and share of endorsement deals of its players by corporate brands. (more on this later on concrete ways clubs can earn very decent annual income)
Nigerian league and clubs may not ever be able to match the kind of revenue pulled in by the top leagues around Europe however they can start to be run as effectively for profit organisations with clear corporate structures and business models.
Minimum Quality Requirements
Helping the clubs; minimum requirements to play in the top tier professional league
To start with let’s say we have a league management body that recognises the importance of developing the league in phases with quick and strong implementation processes the aim should be to first lay down a pragmatic framework that will above all try to institute the right infrastructure. This will however come after totally overhauling the legal and organisational structure requirements for clubs wishing to compete in the premier/professional and lower leagues (More on this in the legal and structure part of this series)
A minimum requirement should be put in place as part of a 10 year development plan for the league. In this a strong requirement infrastructure wise will be for football clubs to have standard, world acceptable stadia where there home matches will be prosecuted. Said stadia should be either grass or a mix of artificial and grass turf in line with FIFA’s highest standards for football pitches, complete with all the basic maintenance structures such as pitch drainage, sprinkling, ambulance/emergency facilities etc. To this end the League body shall commit to share with all clubs in the league and indeed any new club that gains promotion to the top 2 tiers a certain percentage of all league sponsorship and TV deals it signs with corporate sponsors. The League body, as a corporate entity might even consider issuing bonds in the financial markets to raise funds to fast-track its 10 year development plan with full knowledge that strong implementation of the plan will yield a lucrative league that will find no difficulty paying back its investors.
With strict adherence rules to ensure benefiting clubs have all needed stadia and corporate infrastructure at least within 3 years of receiving the first annual development funding from the league body minimum expectations and strict penalties for default must be made into law governing all clubs participating in the league;
– international level stadium (two clubs in the same city can team up to develop and equally own a stadia as is the case in some european leagues)
– club training facilities and operational offices (ideally not more than a certain distance from their proposed stadium). This can be where the club’ entire administrative and operational offices is situated.
It is worthy to note that having the stadium can avail the club of immediate commercial opportunities as the club’s official stores for sale of shirts, memorabilia and in-store player shirt signings can be part of the stadium complex as we have in most stadiums as well as a decent number of shops and stores to be leased out by the club.
Tackling the Issues that Keep Fans and Followership away from Match Venues
It will be foolhardy at the beginning of trying to grow the Nigerian league into a formidable brand to try and battle with timing against the English Premier League and other top European leagues. To try and create an option for the die-hard European league followers is the best option which means fixture scheduling should be a very strategic thing.
Friday evening kick-offs (as obtainable sometimes in the Bundesliga), mixed with a bit of Monday evening kick-offs and mid-week evening kick-offs will be great. Then strategically organisers can fix games on the weekend in such a way to avoid as much as possible clashes with kickoff time for the top 5 clubs in the English Premier league (these clubs Chelsea FC, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool account for over 70 percent of die-hard fans of the EPL in Nigeria)
If this is sorted, security will be the other challenge to overcome if fans are to become interested in spending to go watch their local clubs.
The few times I have ventured to go watch Rangers International at the Enugu stadium I lose interest to go again after struggling through the wave of touts and anxiously guarding my wallet.
The Television Issue (Adjustments to drive TV viewership)
Driving TV viewership will depend on several factors including quality of pitch and facilities (which I have treated), timing (again trying to not as much as possible clash with the timing for the well followed leagues in Europe)
Welfare and Standardisation of Player vs Club Relationships
This is very key. A lot of informal arrangements between players and clubs still exist. A comprehensive guideline and rules for the league should be drawn up and massively implemented to entrench best practices in contracts and obligations between clubs and playing, coaching and operational staff.
Such issues as a player eloping from a club without its knowledge stem from the shabby and shoddy arrangements that persist in the league.
More in Part 2