It appears the lot has again fallen on the government-owned Nigeria Television Authority to revive the Nigerian sports industry. Following the decision of satellite broadcaster, Supersport to stop covering the Nigerian Professional Football League games last season, the League Management Company has turned to the NTA for answers.
While the national broadcaster has the widest reach and decent equipment, our abandonment of our domestic sports has meant much of the equipment was left to rot, while there was hardly any effort to grow expertise in 21st century sports production. It was no surprise then that when the 2018 season of the NPFL started last weekend, the NTA coverage left much to be desired.
Most analysts were unsurprisingly critical of the quality of the production, compared to what Supersport had offered before. In Nigeria, when we are not directly involved in something, we tend to gloss over the variables involved in achieving world class quality. To reach the quality levels of Supersport, let alone the standards of European packaging, will take massive financial investments and time. This can only be possible if there is considerable support from the local business community and government. The problem however is that our brands only want to sponsor the glitzier English Premier League and UEFA Champions League games, while government has failed to grasp how sports can engage and unify our exploding and increasingly polarized population.
In the more successful parts of the world, people understand how self-protection is critical to society’s success and global competition. The business community would have understood the need to back the NPFL for two reasons: First, this funds the league, Second, it creates jobs and wealth within society that translates to better patronage of their products or services. But this is Africa where we would rather look good and lose than to look bad and win. When our businesses sponsor the foreign leagues they essentially fund the leagues overseas and create almost zero value within our society. In the end we all lose, and we can see the results in our economy today.
Television is critical to the success of the sports industry. Ideally TV networks pay for content like the NPFL and recoup their investments through subscriptions and advertising. Supersport, to their credit, used to pay for the rights to the NPFL to encourage the development of the local game. For years this South African-owned company poured millions of dollars into the league and got almost no support as our own Nigerian brands were instead throwing their own millions of dollars to the European game.
Now the collateral damage from not developing our own has reached all corners. Business is bad for everyone. Although Supersport blamed some contractual breach for pulling the plug on the NPFL deal, we all know business is not as rosy as it once was. It may be convenient for most of us to blame the government for our woes, but the fact is that if we continue to ship N70 of every N100 we earn in Nigeria overseas, we will be poorer every year regardless of how brilliant the government is.
NTA as a government-run organisation can hardly afford to pay for the NPFL rights. Beyond the rights the network also needs to commit hundreds of millions into filming the games. Were the NPFL a darling of Nigerian fans, then maybe the government would undertake the investment, but is this is hardly the case. However sports remain a critical tool to engage our exploding population and unify our increasingly polarized peoples, so it is imperative we find a way out.
The LMC is also critical to the solution and it appears they are moving in the right direction. Were they awash with cash, they would set up their own filming company to record the games and then simply sell the rights to TV networks around the world. However they lack the resources to do this and must now work with the NTA to arrive at their goal. This appears a partnership of strange bedfellows, but it is for now the sensible thing to do. Their success however is dependent on whether they find advertisers as, unlike Supersport, the NTA does not make any money from subscriptions.
The idea is not for us to ridicule NTA and the poor quality of their production, or to dismiss the NPFL, but for us to find a way to help out such that the league and sports industry survive to create the value we desperately need within our society. While the federal government may not directly commit funds to the NTA and league, there is no reason why rich government parastatals like the NNPC, CBN, Customs, NPA, etc cannot put some of their community development and marketing funds on sports. Each of these organisations can directly sponsor top sports events like our football league or competitions in other sports like athletics or tennis etc.
The behemoths have the budgets, but for now they use them for silly things like calendars and expensive gifts for already wealthy people. We cannot afford to waste more time and resources before we take sports seriously. For now it is imperative chime in our bit to help NTA and the LMC succeed, unless we feel that when the food finally disappears from our tables the EPL and UEFA can help.