As election season rounds up this weekend, it is important to start looking at how the “new” government can help stimulate growth in the domestic football scene that has the potential to become bigger than it presently is. Despite the fact that the flagship Nigerian Professional Football League is in its eleventh week, matches are not on television. Since the 2017 season when SuperSport put an end to a broadcast agreement with the League Management Company, there has not been any consistent televising of the matches.
The attempt to get the NTA to broadcast the NPFL in the 2018 season was largely unsuccessful. When the national broadcaster managed to show a game, the quality was uninspiring and incomparable to the kind of UHD/4K broadcast signals that we are used to getting from international sports events. While we have a league that has some potential, our situation is like that of the person that lives by the ocean but who uses spittle to wash their hands. Like many things in our country, potential has not been turned to value.
Yet, due to our peoples’ love of football, bars and viewing centres are crowded every weekend with spectators consuming foreign football leagues. They are glued to the spectacle of the English Premier League with its well-told stories of domestic rivalries, personal triumph and dramatic endings. The Spanish LaLiga also throws up its glamorous ‘Grande El Clasico’ filmed with 38 ultra-high-definition multi-angle cameras that can replay an action in instant 360 degrees slow motion that draws in viewers.
But as this progress is made across the world of 21st century football, we cannot find the Nigerian league to watch on TV. The national television that is supposed to champion our local culture would rather hook onto international sport as it unwittingly lends itself to a neo-colonial agenda. While many other national television companies are championing cultural activism by ensuring that they put their local products forward most especially sport, the reverse is the case for us. Instead of our children having local heroes, all they are offered are foreign icons who continue to perpetuate the idea of the African as not even good enough in their own land.
The image of the sporting icon is powerful. It is one of the reasons why the Nazi regime used the 1936 Olympic Games to establish its philosophy of Aryan superiority until a certain African American named Jesse Owens overrode it by winning the top track and field prizes of that competition. You could see the close attention that the regime paid to documenting the tournament through the work of filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. They understood the power of the documented sport image and put all their resources to ensuring it was kept for posterity.
It emerged last week that the top two divisions of Spanish football contributed $17.9billion (6.47 trillion Naira) to their country’s economy during the 2016/17 season according to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). That figure represented 1.37percent of Spain’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) according to SportsPro. LaLiga also contributed 185,000 jobs to the economy. These figures include television deals, club activities, transportation, hospitality, and spectator spending, among others.
How can we replicate such a trend at home?
After a first term of largely ignoring domestic football and much of the sports industry, one of the best decisions that the new government can take is to use television to grow the league over the next four years. The President Muhammadu Buhari government can provide social investments in football to ensure that it can harness sport’s potential to grow into an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of young Nigerians.
All the major companies working here are only interested in foreign sports rights. The government could set up a social investment fund for the sports television arm of the industry. One way is for the government to fund the NTA to buy rights to the domestic league and then get high quality equipment to be able to produce content around the league to return it to the consciousness of the majority of Nigerians. By purchasing the rights to the league, the government would be helping to sustain its operations by ensuring clubs pay good salaries to Nigerian footballers and ensuring the industry can employ a more diverse workforce. With games on TV and having a mindshare of the spectators, we can get more people to return to stadiums which will further stimulate spending on food, transportation, hospitality services, etc.
Television will do a whole lot to improve the image of the domestic game. It is also a strategic product that can help transform the image of our country. We cannot keep consuming international sport while neglecting our own. The government needs to step in to ensure that this strategic positioning is utilized and well mined. To neglect domestic football while hoping that our national team stars will be produced by foreign clubs is definitely not smart thinking. The new regime needs to start thinking, planning and working towards how to position domestic sport for the future through worthy social investments.