Let’s make football our brand
The most expensive footballer of all time is Neymar, after completing a staggering 222 million Euro move to Paris St Germain. He is Brazilian. Arguably, the greatest living legend in world football is Edson Arantes Do Nascimento, popularly known as Pele. He is also Brazilian. In addition to these outstanding individuals, there are many Brazilian footballers in different clubs in Europe flying the Brazilian flag. What this simply means is that Brazil has a compelling reputation as a great footballing nation. Not surprisingly, Brazil has won the World Cup five times, which is more than any other nation. They are the only country to have participated in every World Cup which means, the World Cup is just not the World Cup if Brazil is not involved.
Our country has exported many famous footballers who have played the game at the highest levels and who rank among the best in the world. By their exploits, they have done more for the image of our country abroad than all our ambassadors put together. But as we relish the euphoria of trashing the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, we have heard the similar messages of commendation, congratulation and adulation. After all the noise, nothing will be done and we will go back to our usual state of inertia. Sports Minister Dalung and several sports ministers before him have failed to carry out or articulate or implement any enduring transformation of our sports despite the abundance of sporting talent we have in this huge country.
Our policy thrust is non-existent and our policy makers are as blank as a plain sheet of paper. To mask their poverty of ideas, they regularly complain of inadequate funding. I was at a congress of the Nigeria Football Federation, earlier this year and I was shocked to listen to Minister Dalung deliver what I can only describe as hate speech. He lambasted the leadership of the Federation and stoked the embers of discord with his comments. Being the first time I watched him speak, I was disappointed. I expected much more from a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. As we speak, I am not aware of any development master plan which Dalung and his ministry are implementing. Meanwhile, anytime our national team makes us proud like they just did, our ministers try to take the glory and claim credit for what is clearly not their achievement. Then we hear the never-ending stories about unpaid allowances.
No sport minister in recent memory has declared an end to the all too familiar problems bedevilling our football and other sports generally. Today, despite our passion, our talent and love for football, we have only one iconic stadium in the country, which is the Uyo Stadium. Other stadiums are nowhere near what is expected in the modern world. The National Stadium in Lagos had long been turned into a sprawling beer and pepper soup village. It should be pulled down and a 21st century sports city built to replace it. How any sport minister could be happy presiding over this rot beats all imagination and how successive governments have failed to see the unifying force and brand value in football beggars belief.
Meanwhile, football continues to grow as the world’s most valuable sport and our people’s passion for the game grows stronger with every whistle blown on the field of play. So why are we not taking this game and building our national brand around it? When the national team plays, Nigerians come together for 90 minutes as One Indivisible people. Yet, our leaders, always giving drab speeches about unity, do not see how football can be used to promote national unity.
We must develop football and make it a strong aspect of our national identity. We can do this by setting out to become the greatest footballing nation in Africa and one of the greatest in the world. We can achieve this by drawing up medium and long term plans that will take us from where we are today to that lofty goal of our dream. Football generates a lot of money. The most profitable league in the world is the English Premier League, which currently generates 8.3billion pounds sterling in TV rights over a three-season period. Some of this money is being paid by us in Nigeria through subscription to DSTV SuperSport. More recently sports betting has spread like a virus all over the country. According to a BBC Sports report, the global sports match-betting industry is worth between $700 billion and $1 trillion. About 70% of this amount comes from football. Apparently, global football is a multi-trillion dollar industry with revenues flowing from multiple sources.
But due to their lack of vision and ideas, our sports administrators always complain of inadequate funding. Even if corruption is totally eliminated, government cannot fund our football completely. We need world class stadiums in every state of the country or at the very least in each of the six geo-political zones to begin with. We need world class training facilities and academies. We need an integrated plan that ensures we regularly produce world class footballers from the millions of raw talent that we have. If we do this we can become a global force in football. Apart from positioning our nation as a success story in football, we can generate immense foreign exchange from football. Our football exports will repatriate a lot of their earnings.
The exciting thing about this is that government doesn’t have to provide the funding. Because football is a mega money spinner, it is viable for the private sector, if our policy makers can think out of the box and provide the platform for robust Public Private Partnerships. Already, our advertisers spend billions of naira annually promoting the English Premier League! Sponsors will always go where their market is. And right now, Nigerians are more hooked on the English Premier League. But when it comes to the National Team, everybody unites behind it. Meanwhile, our Nigerian Professional Football League is gradually developing and will soon become a massive money spinner too. Kudos to the League Management Company Chairman, Shehu Dikko and his team, for building on the visionary foundation laid by Honorable Nduka Irabor. We are beginning to see the results of their hard work, even though there is still a long way to go.
We should make football our brand. It can unite our people more than anything else. It can generate foreign exchange. It can create employment for millions of our people. It can create a compelling platform for building our nation brand as Africa’s leading footballing nation.
It can provide the impetus to transform our Infrastructure. It will activate the development of even our healthcare delivery. It will promote our tourism, which is also a revenue earner. Football offers the most compelling platform for national development. I just don’t see why our leaders don’t see it.
Muyiwa Kayode is CEO at USP Brand Management and author, The Seven Dimensions of Branding. Brand Nation is a platform for promoting national development based on the universal principles of branding.
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