The league’s poor marketability is almost always tied to the public ownership of the clubs with the absence of private ownership considered the main reason for its lack of appeal to sponsors who globally represents an important revenue source.
Although private ownership might indeed engender greater attempts at commercialisation, it is unlikely to automatically end sponsor apathy. It is worth noting that the 4 privately owned teams of the current 20 teams haven’t fared any better in the area of attracting sponsorship. Indeed last season, one of the 20 teams belonged to the czar of cable television in Nigeria!
An evaluation of why the same big brands who go out of their way to spend top dollars on foreign clubs shun the league reveal the absence of the local game in the news cycle as the overriding consideration. Put in other words, sponsors do not see any value in putting money behind a brand that generates neither positive nor negative publicity. Advertisers are of course notorious for following eyeballs.
It is instructive that the same league commanded its fair share of media coverage in the 70s and 80s (albeit negative stories of hooliganism and brigandage. PS; this is not to advocate for a return of those dark days) despite the media landscape being limited to NTA and FRCN as sole TV and radio networks plus a handful of general purpose print outlets. Nothing indicts the managers of the league and reflects the poor state of the brand as much as it’s near total media darkness, with the league appearing to exist only in a parallel universe. This state of affairs in an era characterised by the democratisation and proliferation of the media landscape calls for a rethink.
To redress this, stakeholders collectively need to brainstorm and proffer solutions. Whilst not in any way exhaustive, the below are steps that can be taken to begin to remedy the current dysfunctional state of affairs.
Switching to Aug — May calendar: The benefit of adequately planning the schedule and actively managing disruptions deserve a post of its own. But sticking with the newsworthiness theme of this post, a predictable schedule means fans and by extension, the media, can anticipate big games — title deciders, derbies etc. looking forward to stories and narratives that generally builds up the atmosphere.
Embracing the holidays; the league managers can extend the planning beyond not going on recess during the holidays (http://regularrayne.blogspot.com.ng/2017/06/the-npfl-public-holidays.html) to actively targeting the holidays for more games noting that these holidays sometimes means up to 4 work free days. Of course, the general state of the transportation network in the country might make this impracticable but it is certainly worth exploring.
Choosing a game day other than Saturdays; considering its weak brand, going head to head with the EPL and other European leagues for eyeballs by playing mainly on Saturday is incredibly foolhardy. The NPFL can immediately attract greater following by switching its game day to Fridays. The weekend essentially starts on Fridays in the Southern parts of the country with young people stretching their post work hour evenings into the small hours in search of fun and recreation. Electricity and power are said to be constraints to playing under the floodlights but this challenge is very surmountable. Even in the less ‘’social’’ Northern part of the country, people are generally more relaxed and amenable to seeking recreation post Friday congregational prayers, making the hours between 4 and 7 PM, as is the practice in parts of North Africa, quite ideal.
Community engagement; Regularising the calendar to run from August — May can provide additional millage. It can for instance provide an excellent PR opportunity for both the league and the country’s often aloof government to connect with the larger populace in the form of a presidential dinner with the new league champions as part of the activities lined up to commemorate democracy day on May 29! Clubs can similarly create newsworthy occasions by incorporating visits to schools, orphanages, hospitals etc. into the season itinerary. Just today, the UK media reported the buzz Manchester United first team generated by showing up, without notice, at a school, joining flummoxed kids in a kick-about!
Incentivising the media; another implication of the poor state of the league is the fact the most desirable job in football and indeed sport journalism locally, is that of communications head for the FA. In an era where sport journalists the world over have built cult following and personal brands on the back of covering clubs and leagues with distinction, it is damning that the FA’s communication lead role (the highlight being the chance to travel with The Eagles and earn travel allowance) is considered the ‘holy grail for local journalists. Changing this perception by incentivizing local coverage taking steps like incorporating various awards specifically targeted at the media coverage of the league can help change this orientation.
Building local heroes; Central to any idea to stay in the news are the players themselves. All over the world, the players represents the center of attraction with their ability, life styles and idiosyncrasies generating interests. In an era where media is democratized, encouraging the players to have active social media presence can build their confidence and create the larger than life personalities required to stay in the news. Clubs can nudge a few of their players in this direction. For instance, it will be pique the interest of the larger public to know that NPFL player with Ronaldo’s narcissism — the one who is certain he is already the best left back for the Super Eagles and is willing to remind us all about it, or the player with the strong political beliefs similar to Joey Barton, the one who openly identifies with the Biafra cause or indeed the openly religious one that will post pictures of himself celebrating in the Muslim prayer position after scoring the odd goal. Talking about celebration, wouldn’t images/videos of something similar to Daniel Amokachi’s Azonto-like celebration from the 94 world cup elicit thousands of re-tweets? Surely, there are players in the league as constituted with similar idiosyncrasies?
Crucial to the last point on building local heroes is the need for a mind-set shift by the NPFL and indeed the players themselves. The league is currently set up (if-unwittingly) as nursery for FIFA age — group competitions. From the late eighties onward, (pyrrhic) successes at youth competition effectively became the barometer to measure the league with the players lying about their age, forging documents etc. to qualify for selections while the NFA referenced the number of international clearance certificates it issued following these age grade competitions as proof of a deep talent pool. This has had the psychological impact of making the rest of the players who either cannot or have not lied about their ages feel unworthy.
On no other score is a paradigm shift as strongly required as the self-worth of the principal actors. While moving to Europe will remain the pinnacle of club football, with participating at FIFA age grade competition a shop window, the players have got to see and take advantage of the better opportunities that a democratized, proliferated media landscape presents as a route to reaching their dreams.