Towards a viable Nigeria Football League
Sports, especially football, continues to offer multiple values in Nigeria, including entertainment, employment, career opportunity, youth development and rallying point for national unity and cohesion.
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For the most populous black nation, with over 200 million population and about 65 per cent of youth population, football, indeed, holds huge prospects. Available data says an estimated 80 million youth fans, active and latent, watch foreign football with about 10,000 companies jostling for their attention.
While many Nigerians, especially youths, crave international football actions due to the quality of play, scintillating commentaries, glamorous players, superb goal-scoring displays and interactive fans engagement, the same cannot be said of the fans and enthusiasm attracted by the local league back at home.
Skillful dribbles, superlative goals, amazing saves and precise kicks all make foreign football quite irresistible but the local league can step up.
In fact, Nigerian football over the years has seen a decline from what it used to be three decades back but the optics look brighter if calls and moves for transformation by genuine actors are encouraged and sustained with required building blocks.
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The potentials are truly enormous but the government needs to enhance enabling environment for football and sports industry generally to thrive and grow faster. Improved security and amenities would help while club management and administrators can quickly see to attracting much more fans with exciting side attractions and other incentives.
Almost 30 years ago, the British government invested £200 million in the Premier League to boost infrastructure and as at May 2021 the EPL was already worth over £18 billion.
The average value of a Premier League team now stands at $1.29 billion, according to Sportico, which estimates that the 20 clubs in English soccer’s top flight are worth more than $25 billion cumulatively.
Just recently, NBC won the Premier League television rights to broadcast exclusively all 380 games per season in the United States until the summer of 2028, in a six-year deal worth £1.9 billion.
The deal is almost double the $1 billion fee NBC paid for Premier League television rights in 2015, meaning it is the biggest ever overseas television deal in the history of the English top-flight league.
This points to the fact that Nigerian football, if properly harnessed and managed, could become a key revenue driver for the country as Gianni Infantino, FIFA President, rightly noted that, “Football is also business; when we can harness it properly, a lot of money can be made for the country through the game, Football.
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“Football is an overwhelming moment of beauty, spirit and pride and in the most populous country in Africa, that passion is palpable.” The FIFA boss made the comment during his visit to Lagos for the maiden edition of the AITEO-Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) Awards.
Truly, the Nigerian local league is gradually picking up tempo and with the support of few patriotic companies, who believe in growing the Nigerian brand and are gradually injecting life into the league.
Their patriotic efforts are aiding the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) to grow at its pace despite the cravings for foreign football.
The NPFL has also not been without its own magic moments too, raising home-grown champions, who are international stars, including Ahmed Musa, Daniel Akpeyi and Junior Lokosa, who are all doing well in their own rights and continue to wow global football fans.
With continued support from companies that are not attracted to the mad rush, the NPFL can attain an enviable status. Eunisell Limited has remained one of such very few and consistent supporters of the local football league in Nigeria.
The specialty chemicals and engineering productions solutions firm began to sponsor Nigeria’s domestic premier league in 2015 and later got into the record books in the domestic league as the first club sponsor in Nigeria to achieve four consecutive seasons -as the Rivers United FC sponsor. The company continues to support the club and said it has great plans for fans in the new season.
In 2018, it also initiated the Eunisell Boot Award, which honours and rewards players with cash prizes at the end of the football season with a N200, 000 per goal premium. This has revved up excitement in the league. Year after year, high goal scoring players in the Nigerian league express delight at the initiative and desire to work harder, score more goals and clinch the annual Award.
Kano Pillars striker, Junior Lokosa, won the maiden edition with 19 goals and got N3.8 million reward for 2017/2018 NPFL season. Following the 2020/21 season, the duo of Nasarawa United’s Silas Nwankwo and Akwa United’s Charles Atshimene were announced as joint winners of the Eunisell Boot award with a cash prize of N7.6 million for also scoring 19 goals.
Before the Nigeria Professional Football League prepares resumed on December 17, Chika Ikenga, Eunisell Founder/Group Managing Director, restated Eunisell Boot as a catalyst to instill greatness in players in the domestic top flight and celebrate their success story. He stressed that the initiative is a confirmation of Eunisell’s commitment to the development of Nigerian football.
“Too often, we lose sight of the importance of the domestic league and its players, opting instead to follow the European and UK leagues for example.
“What we forget is that a significant percentage of those talented players are Nigerians who started their careers at home in the local league – and even more remarkable, is the fact that our young stars rise to the top here and abroad without having had the benefit of local academies or sponsors in their formative years.
“The prestigious trophy and value of the Eunisell Boots award will spur players into performing better. We believe and we are indeed proud to be associated with our home-grown stars,” he noted.