I don’t like to disparage the domestic league because sports, albeit football, is one of the few platforms where Nigeria can be ranked with world-beaters. For a league which commenced as a professional body in 1990 to still be in diapers, says a lot about how the game has been systematically killed with most of the participants – the players and coaches left in abject poverty. Unfortunately, the supply chain, which is the domestic league has been lying prostrate, no thanks to the maladministration by a few all-knowing people who won’t quit, even with the roof’s broken piece piercing through their heads.
Pitches are like pigsties, sometimes; other times, they are just good enough for cattle grazing. But the organisers don’t care for as long as there are two goalposts, the two teams are ready to play and there is a referee at the centre. Of course, there won’t be anything to cheer under this setting, especially with the players playing on empty stomachs, occasioned by outstanding wages and allowances prevalent in most clubs. Players’ welfare packages seem abnormal, with many telling the players and coaches to be happy that they earn a living in a country where millions are unemployed.
The future doesn’t look bright for the beautiful game if the same characters are allowed to run the operations of the league. A league without official television rights holder is a circus, which should not be taken seriously. Such leagues obviously cannot produce national team players since they wouldn’t want their careers truncated through the organisers’ ineptitude. A league without title sponsors has no business with the corporate world – it has unwittingly become a commercial failure. A league without an official insurance company for the clubs, coaches, and players can best be likened to celebrating mediocrity.
It is a shame that we want to start a new season with all the problems which have crippled the game left unattended to. If we had people who are passionate about the game, they would have taken proactive decisions which would have factored all the variables that have stunted the game’s growth in the last 30 years. Other leagues in the world are on stream without spectators, yet the fans queue behind their clubs, waiting patiently for the gates to be flung open for them to savour the sweetness associated with watching the beautiful game. While other leagues are celebrating the return of spectators to the stadium, we are struggling to resume ours. That shows how backward we are. Yet those in charge in the last five years don’t want to vacate the place.
The domestic league is in a coma because the organisers haven’t taken far-reaching decisions for it to run seamlessly. Rather than look at the bigger picture, which includes getting the league to sell itself through thriving television and marketing packages which would have translated into huge revenue bases for the game, the organisers have chosen to adopt the trial by error system. Nigeria league has been off the air in the last five years, so the excuse of coronavirus inhibiting its process is bunkum. Had the organisers of the league utilised the long years the competition was on stream to package enviable segments, which would have introduced new veritable marketing windows, the corporate world would have been falling on themselves to splash the cash.
Rather than embark on such progressives ventures, our league organisers chose to entrench themselves in the place by accepting only tunnel vision people who tell them what they want to hear. The leagues that are thriving today planned on what they received at inception to chart the way forward for the industry in their climes. Ours’ chose to use the platform to enlist themselves into FIFA, CAF and WAFU bodies, not minding if the game they promised to protect is rotten in the forests.
Shouldn’t we at this point of the league’s decadence interrogate all the cash sunk into the body since its inception as an independent arm of our football administration? We once had a title sponsor of the league, how did that romance end? The league had television rights holder, what happened between both parties? Did we not also hear that the television company wanted some kind of review based on the going rate of the dollar to the naira, which had risen astronomically compared to what it was when the deal was consummated? Who chose to dump the known for the unknown? Where in the world is that done? This is purely a failure of leadership.
On the hindsight, wasn’t it better for the league organisers to have gone to the renegotiation table with the sponsors’ terms than allow them to walk away with their cash like it has happened? It would have made of a lot of sense than the situation we are in now, where the league hasn’t been on television. Any league that isn’t on the terrestrial platform is dead. How could anyone contemplate watching the Nigerian league through viewers’ phones when such a fan could easily work into a viewing centre and see the day’s matches of other countries live on television for N100?
In saner climes, when contracts start to run its course, several rival brands, especially those who lost out in the earlier bids prepare packages which help the owners of such rights to up their antennae, knowing that the incumbent firm(s) won’t want to lose their treasured island, which was sponsoring for thriving leagues amount to. We have found ourselves in this dilemma because we failed to create several marketing windows which would have eased our pains. One isn’t surprised because those who negotiated the initial deals were swept off the stage by undertakers eager to showcase what they didn’t have. Of course, with such a setting, the sponsors, knowing who they negotiated with, easily opted out of the new deal.
Sitting through any football game in climes where the game is taken as a business, you can’t
miss the rolling boards in the inner perimeters which show products of our sponsors of the leagues. Clubs also use the platform to relay news about the game, its future matches, and vital information about the teams. Watching games in those countries, you have the luxury to either watch the game or choose to view from the scoreboards. in fact, contentious scenes are captured on the scoreboards. Is it not surprising that the Nigerian game is played inside stadia without scoreboards or those that worked in the past (most times running into several years)?
The organisers failed to utilise the visibility arising from previous marketing deals to reposition the game for the future. Of course, government money is cheap and accountability is far and wide apart like the dentition of a Centurion. After all, most of the other thriving leagues draw their cash from previous and current deals. However, those who have run the league aground still think they have the Midas touch to change the competition’s image and stature.
The structural flaws in the league’s organisation are such that would put off any investor. The organisers won’t be able to provide data to show clearly how much the league is worth. What they throw up like thieves at night are contrived reports of the league being fifth or some outlandish figures when we know that the Nigerian league in the last four years has not ended on the pitch.
Our leagues have ended with various nomenclatures starting with the arbitrary end to the Mundial season by declaring Lobi Stars winners without the trophy. Lobi was picked based on its placing on the table at that time. One would have thought that the administrators learned a few lessons from the last edition. Not with these folks, rather, a worse scenario emerged where the league was split into groups and the winner emerged from a Super 6. This disturbing system was applied after the league began. A case of shifting the goalpost after the match had started.
Unfortunately, we remain a country without a football calendar which makes the game rudderless. For us to have a seamless league, the organisers should develop a calendar that can’t be tampered with. The hiccups in the games start when the organisers develop cold feet in asking our continental representatives to play midweek matches after both legs of the CAF inter-club competitions. the effect is that some clubs such as Enyimba FC of Aba, for instance, has five outstanding games due to this kind of visionless structure.
A domestic league without a regimented calendar won’t produce new stars, since they only know when the season begins without knowing when it would end. We have in Nigeria, a league season without end, hence such contraptions as abridged leagues or regional league
competition, as a few purists are advocating for. How does anyone expect the league to produce new talents for the Super Eagles when the competition only starts when the organisers are pressurised to do so?
A league, where the ambulance meant to handle emergencies is being pushed around the playing pitch while a player dies slowly, should be disbanded. A league where the organisers enforce existing laws only after a player has died shouldn’t be allowed to kill more people.
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