The State of the Nigerian Premier League

Nigerian Premier League
Nigerian Premier League

‘1977, I travelled from Bauchi to Kano to watch I.C.C. F.C. take on Rangers F.C.’ said one elderly man I met. While the match between Real Madrid and Barcelona advanced to extra time, these thoughts crossed my mind. What happened to our own indigenous league; which according to this same man use to be the talk of the town? Over seventy thousand supporters gather at Old Trafford every week just to have a feel of their beloved Football Club. ‘The Teslim Balogun stadium remains scanty as Lagos Islanders host Warri Wolves’ I remember a commentator once said. Many would rather spend their weekends in tight corners in a jam-packed hall with poor ventilation, watching the English Premier League (E.P.L.); than to go watch the Nigerian Premier League (N.P.L.) at a nearby stadium. Soccer fans in Nigeria, often times do not know the names of the clubs in the N.P.L., not even the league leader. Nevertheless, they would name as much as many players in the E.P.L., their nationality, top goal scorer, on the tip of their fingers. Lack of sponsorship, poor Facilities, and even socio- economic factors are reasons often times attributed to the poor league structure in our country.
While the Federation insists on reducing government intervention in football affairs, many of our clubs still can’t boast of a strong capital base enough to bring world class players to the N.P.L. Our young and fledgling footballers fancy the opportunity of playing in Europe, Asia, America because they feel their development is extensively hampered by factors above their reach in Nigeria. ‘Back in those days, football wasn’t really a money making venture’ he said, ‘people play for the fun of it’. Today there is too much money to be made; multinationals are much involved, endorsing players as brand ambassadors. Adverts are being paid for every now and then with footballers at the centre stage. The broadcast rights and sponsorships are channels siphoning money into a complete league system. Coupled with a youth football development program that build football academies, sponsors seminars, and carry out community development services, our football league could become capable of sustaining itself over a long period of time.
The absence of such structures becomes mitigating factors. For instance, insufficient or lack of maintenance of sports facilities, has never improved our athletes. The man continued ‘to air football matches today, we must invite Supersports T.V.’ ‘I wonder what is wrong with our local T.V.’, he continued. When will the football league in Nigeria, stop paying royalties to foreign companies? When we have DAAR Sat, Silverbird Group, amongst the queue. This matter could be more serious than we perceive it today. Have all the personnel that handled the transmission of Nigeria 2009 F.I.F.A. World Youth Championship gone? What about our state of the art transmission stations? Government involvement could be much more beneficial if they build more stadia, create openings for investors to come in, see that the regulatory bodies are better equipped to carry out their responsibilities, and support the establishment of football academies. Most teams in the N.P.L. are state owned, yet not for the better of it. Stadiums are left in deplorable conditions, ‘weeds now grow on our pitches’ the elderly man pointed out. If government should privatise stadiums today, which club in Nigeria can boast of having enough personnel to take charge? How do we talk of stakeholders participation in issues related to sport, when such benefit wouldn’t get to the right recipients? I call that the Nigerian factor.
Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (B.O.N.), negotiation to broadcast A.F.C.O.N. 2013 finals broke down in the wake of mass interest which increased as Nigerians watched the Super Eagles go on to lift the cup. ‘A slap in the face’ he said. ‘Does it mean only DSTV subscribers/ cable satellite owners have the right to enjoy the national team play?’ How do you encourage Nigerians to leave their houses and go watch league matches when they can’t watch the local stars, like Sunday Mba play in the national team colour on T.V? The Sponsorship of our National Football Team is too heavy a burden for few companies to carry, more should get involved. Outlets should be established for multinationals to come sponsor our local league. Then the game will get more competitive, foreigners will come play and manage for us. More footballers will emerge as a result of a developed youth system.
If we must start having Kano Pillars fans, Enyimba fans, Sunshine F.C. fans, Nigerians must start having access to our league. This can be done by initiating promotions, advertising our products with local footballers, reducing ticket prices, employing the mass media as a means of propagation. Encouraging clubs to have academies will drive up the emergence of home- made stars and consequently improve our league status on the global scale. Restructuring our clubs will be incomplete if government isn’t willing to support in form of cash incentives. ‘We need to work earnestly, if we must bring back the lost glory of the Nigerian Premier League’ the elderly man concluded.

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