In 2023, the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) will have its 11th anniversary. The soccer league was the best in Africa and ranked higher than the Scottish league when the outlawed League Management Company (LMC) took over its management in 2012.
Yet 11 years after that outstanding start, the league lacks a realistic schedule, can’t retain top talent, and coaching has fallen into a bygone era with administrators little more than puppets of the current governor.
The 2021/22 season ended on July 17, 2022, and the 2023 season, abbreviated due to time and political issues, will begin on January 8, 2023, with a single game.
On 5 January 2023, the Interim Management Committee (IMC) set up by Youth and Sports Minister Sunday Dare after the LMC was declared an illegal body, revealed a partnership with GTI Group, as a strategic partner of the NPFL.
Nelson Ine, the project manager, was contacted by Premium Times who later sat down with him to discuss why a Nigerian corporation would spend N200 million on a failed brand and product.
First, it corrected the impression that GTI was sponsoring the league. “What we have is a strategic partnership with the NPFL for the development of the league and football in general. That is the agreement we have with the NFF and the NPFL. It is not a sponsorship per se”.
A league veteran, Dayo Ojo of Remo Stars, told Premium Times: “I am aware of the money being given to clubs, I saw it on social media. I think it’s a good thing to come to the league.
“Since I have played in the league, I have never seen anything like this. That the IMC has brought him to the club, I think he is good and he will be a great help in the league. At least 10 million as a take-off grant is good from the IMC”, added Ojo.
But why is GTI investing N200 million in the NPFL?
Ine continued: “Under this deal, the idea is to try to build liquidity, energize this property to ensure it goes live and starts generating a lot of income. but in doing that, there are certain basic governance structures that need to be in place.
“What drives sports and business around the world is ethics and corporate governance structures; transparency in the system, and accountability. You will agree with me that these are things our sports have been struggling with. If you look at sports from around the world, including the EPL, La Liga, and the French league, you’ll find that the best brands in those countries are associated with the league.
“Now the question you want to ask is why the major brands in Nigeria don’t partner with our own league. It is the lack of processes and structure of corporate governance. What we’re looking to do is bring a system that will outlive all of us; It is not tied to any particular individual.
The PLA was a disaster before it was renamed in 1992, 20 years before the NPFL was formed. According to magazine of importance“The breakneck growth has seen domestic broadcast revenue grow from £633,000 per game, when the first deal with BSkyB was struck in 1992, to £6.53 million. [today] in 2014.”
Ian Darke, who has covered the PLA throughout its 30-year history, wrote in his column on ESPN He said: “As it turned out, the ‘rebranding’ seemed to work. The game polished its image for the largest audience with safer stadiums and seating for all, while the TV cash bonanza finally allowed clubs to bring top players like Henry, Ronaldo, Dennis Bergkamp and Gianfranco Zola to scatter stardust.”
Basically what GTI and local investors are trying to do is to whitewash NPFL, turn it into an entertainment venue and try to replicate the hits of Nigerian music acts and increase the value of the main ingredient – the players.
In 1993, Finidi George left the Port Harcourt Sharks to join Ajax. He entered the first team directly and helped them win the Eredivisie and in 1995 the UEFA Champions League. Just like Nwankwo Kanu, who went straight from the Iwuanyanwu Nationale to become a regular for a high-flying Ajax team. Similarly, Taye Taiwo left Lobi Stars in January 2005 to join Olympique Marseille and made his debut for him in March. These examples are no more, as NPFL stars now leave for Cyprus, Azerbaijan, Moldova and the like. For emphasis, Taiwo’s transfer fee was approximately $300,000 in 2005.
Ine further explains: “Because the NPFL is national property and it is not supposed to be managed as if it were private property. It’s not supposed to be tied to an individual, but it’s supposed to be driven by institutions, with processes and structures that are transparent, through which people can see; they can evaluate them and there are ways to measure how they are growing.
How will this strategic association help professionalism in the operation of football clubs?
“There is a lot of confusion in the Nigerian sports ecosystem today. There is a lot of confusion between amateur sports and professional sports and that is where the whole problem starts from; which is what we (GTI) have identified. The confusion of not separating amateur sport from professional sport.
“There is nowhere in this world where elite professional sports are run by the government. It’s very clear why we’re not getting results, it’s so obvious. Change is what we have initiated and that is why I call it a strategic partnership. We are also going to have a lot of interaction with the clubs. We are starting with the management of the league, and from there we are taking it to the next level.
“Today, as I speak to you, there is a faulty orientation in the ownership and management structure of the clubs. No one runs that kind of model. I am sometimes tempted to call it the poverty model for sport development. Why should people be so happy and comfortable running a poverty model of an activity that only produces poor athletes and poor coaches who cannot measure up to their peers in other societies?
In 11 years of existence, NPFL clubs have not won any continental title, nor the African Nations Championship (CHAN). Referees have not been paid for three seasons and some clubs still owe their players the salaries of the last two seasons. So how will GTI judge its foray a success amid all these fundamental challenges?
“There are certain parameters that we will use to assess how well we are doing,” Ine said. “First, we have to grow the revenue base of the league…it’s unknown what the league is generating today as revenue, but if we look at the revenue potential of the league, we can say that what we’ve generated compares with 5% of the potential.
“So 95% of what that league can offer is untapped. The partnership is for 10 years and the value is unlimited. What we have is a strategic partnership. The whole essence of this partnership is to increase the value of the league and launch certain processes.
“This means we are just getting off the ground with this (N200 million for NPFL clubs); As the value continues to grow, we expect the value of the clubs to continue to grow. Those are the systems and processes we’re talking about.”
What is GTI getting for this investment? Ine explained that it is not about putting the GTI logo on all 20 NPFL jerseys. “We are working with them to put the right structures and processes in place.”
“GTI is like a consulting partner. As we increase value, we will also gain value; profit from this value, but there is a basis for these values to be given. Everything is standardized, there is a template that runs the entire system. Now there is a system. As the value continues to grow, the clubs will grow in value, the league property will grow in value, the players will grow in value, the referees will grow in value and the coaches and all the stakeholders will grow in value.
“GTI has developed an extremely unique model for managing Nigerian football, something that has never been done before. We have been able to set up structures that give Nigerians the opportunity to invest in the league through the Nigeria Football Fund. Nigerians are expected to earn some returns on their investments. It is an open fund and we expect the value to continue to grow.
READ ALSO: How strategic leaders can develop a growth mindset and win
“The launch is to activate the fund and the value begins to grow. This is the first step of the global project that we pursue. It is a unique model because all Nigerians have the opportunity to invest in the league, so as the value of the league grows, they also get value from their investment, which is quite unique. It is also Nigerians who are going to crowdfund the process of energizing the league and getting value.
“We are also under the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC); these bring transparency and accountability to the highest level. The structure that we have designed is not about world best practice, it has even taken a step ahead of international best practice that I think once we get into full implementation and start to see the result, the world will have to learn from it. that GTI has delivered on this project and Nigerians will be happier for it.”
Listen to the whole interview here…[Video sent to Lere]
An IMC member, Paul Bassey, recently had this to say Newspaper“For five years, I am one of those who won the league two seasons ago, they have not given me a penny.
“[Now] We have someone who says I can give you 10 million to start. We have someone who said I’m going to pay the refs when we start, we have someone who says I’m going to put the league on TV. All in three months, that’s all we’ve been able to accomplish.”
Akwa United manager Ayodeji Ayeni reiterated that the take-off grant is a good place to start. “And the money that is given to the clubs, I think will take the pressure off them. The take-off grant will go a long way before many of these clubs get their grants to their various owners.”
Since many of the NPFL clubs are run by the states, fortunes and funding depend on current political will. A stars publication in 2020: ‘Why Nigeria can’t finance its football teams’ aptly describes the challenge and the solution.
“When it comes to raising funds, renegotiating corporate deals and finding alternative sources of income should be a priority. The reality is that the sports ministry’s budget problems are symptomatic of much larger gaps in public funding.
“Nigerian football is lucky to have an alternative that is not available to the country’s officials. We should maximize the opportunity.”
Support PREMIUM TIMES journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. However, only good journalism can guarantee the possibility of a good society, a responsible democracy and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country, we ask that you consider making a modest support for this noble effort.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to keep journalism relevant and ensuring that it remains free and available to everyone.
TEXT AD: Call Willie – +2348098788999