‘We Branded Sharks FC To Boost Nigerian League’

A player of Sharks FC on Eunisell jersey (left), battling for the ball in the on-going Nigerian Premier League. The company says it will continue to support the league.

A player of Sharks FC on Eunisell jersey (left), battling for the ball in the on-going Nigerian Premier League. The company says it will continue to support the league.

OVER the years, one major drawback for Nigerian sports, particularly football, is relative lack of widespread interest from the corporate world, which to a large extent, has affected the local league, leading to low attendances at match venues.

One of the key components of football is the presence of the fans, who add unique element through the atmosphere they create, as well as the camaraderie they engage.

To the Group Managing Director of Eunisell Group, Mr. Chika Ikenga, the company’s decision to brand Sharks FC of Port Harcourt, its first in more than 10 years, is part of the interest in developing the Nigeria Premiere League. He spoke with The Guardian during the week.

Many People Wonder Why The Nigeria Premier League Has Not Enjoyed As Much Support As The League In Europe?

The administration of the clubs in Nigeria still has a lot of work to do in selling themselves for corporate sponsorships. It is not the responsibility of any corporate body to get involved in football. Companies get involved in football when the opportunities for a return on investment are presented to them.

The viewership of the EPL, for example, is so high that any brand sponsoring a side in England can already see the benefits in it. The story is not the same for Nigeria, and so the responsibility of marketing the benefits of sponsorships to companies, who may be interested, lies with the club management and this is currently not being done professionally.

Did Sharks FC Market Itself To Eunisell?
No. We decided on the shirt sponsorship with Sharks on our own. Football is a very interesting sport and we are passionate about supporting our own league. The number of people watching our local league is starting to rise and much more needs to be done to support the league.

The fact that the matches played are even shown live on satellite television makes it more assessable not just to Nigerians but Africa as a whole. We saw the opportunity to encourage the league to grow and went for it.

Why The Choice Of Sharks Among All Clubs In The League?
We have to start from somewhere. Apart from the fact that we do have some relationship going back with Port Harcourt, we looked at all the teams in the league and decided to go with Sharks, considering some of the issues they had faced in the past years. We want to raise the bar for local football in Nigeria and make the sport more lucrative than it is.

In some cases, Nigerian players have gone to play for teams in Vietnam and other Third World countries. This shouldn’t be so because the potential to develop our sports here is quite huge and if well done, we will begin to see local clubs signing foreign players even from Europe. It is possible. We will get there, but as I said, we have to start from somewhere.

What Is The Actual Value Of The Sponsorship Deal With Sharks FC?
The value of the deal is confidential. All I can say is that the contract we signed is a one-year renewable contract and it was approved by the LMC. The value of the deal is a good one, but we do not wish to disclose it for strategic reasons. We are most convinced it will go a long way in helping the club.

Will Eunisell Take Up Sponsorship Of Other Clubs In The League?
We have not ruled out that possibility. When we evaluate the shirt sponsorship with Sharks and its benefits to the club at the end of this season, considering what position they were on before the sponsorship and where they end up at the end of the season, then we might consider sponsoring other clubs.

In What Other Areas Do You Think The League Can Be Improved On?
I think the issue of officiating has been in the forefront for some time now. Although a lot has improved over time, I think there is still room for improvement. We need to constantly train and retrain match officials to ensure that they are up to date and familiar with international standards of officiating.

A lot more also needs to be done in the area of media coverage. People will get more interested if more reportage is given to the league. Sometimes results from matches played are not reported until three to four days after, while by next day international games are reported. Things have to improve if we need the right form of investments in the league.

Sharks FC Is Battling For Survival In The League. Will You Continue The Shirt Sponsorship If The Club Is Relegated?
I have the assurances of both the players and the club management that they will swim out of the relegation water. The morale of the players has been raised and we will continue to support them. We will continue to support the league irrespective of how the club ends this season.

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