NBBF and the danger of high stakes sports politics
In April 2017, the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) announced an unprecedented five-year $12million deal with Kwese TV to sponsor its Premier Basketball League.
That deal, worth $2.2m annually, was the biggest single deal in Nigerian sport.
Last week, the NBBF reportedly signed another two-year 60million Naira deal with TOTAL Nigeria for the Divisions One and Two men’s leagues. In financial terms, it looks like Nigerian basketball is enjoying the best of times.
However, there is a lot of problem in the community with two factions laying claims to the leadership of the federation – Messrs Musa Kida and Tijani Umar.
FIBA, the international governing body of the sport, has waded into the crisis and said that it would communicate with Nigerian basketball through Mr Kida and his faction while a new constitution is drawn up ahead of elections for a new board later in the year.
For a sport that’s a distant second in the public consciousness, it is a wonder how basketball was able to secure such a huge amount of sponsorship from billionaire businessman Strive Masiyiwa’s company.
It took many by surprise when the deal was announced last year which led fellow Guardian contributor Shina Okeleji to declare “more money, more problems for Nigerian basketball.” Truly, that prediction has come to pass.
The decision to put almost 1billion Naira annually in the Basketball Premier League looks definitely not well thought through. How many people watched the league? How many star players can one name in the league?
I attended a few games at the Indoor Hall of the National Stadium in Surulere last year and I was left wondering at the idea behind the sponsorship decision.
The hall was scant, there were less than two hundred people at a game where four teams in the Atlantic Conference played.
The organisation was poor, there was nothing to show that so much money was riding on the property. Simply put, there was not enough value and return on investment for Kwese TV and its sponsorship of the Premier Basketball League.
That opinion has been reinforced by the chaos in the basketball community at the moment.
After Kano Pillars won the title with a 20million Naira prize last September, all hell has been let loose with Kida and Umar fighting over the leadership of the NBBF following the staging of two separate elections into the NBBF board.
The politics of sport has certainly now gotten in the way of the business of sport as both men continue to push and pull the sport back and forth.
Following the victory of D’Tigers, the national men’s team, at the 2015 Afrobasket and D’Tigresses, the women’s national team, at the 2017 Women’s Afrobasket, what would have been an opportunity to deepen the popularity of the sport across the country has now been lost to politics.
Those two victories on the continental stage were keenly followed by several fans and many other people who tuned in to celebrate Nigeria’s victory.
Despite the bulk of the players in the national teams being foreign-based, the upsurge of interest in Nigerian basketball could have been translated into more fans for the local league through a well-worked marketing and communication strategy. Instead, all the good vibes have gone to waste.
Last week, the Umar faction announced that the Kwese Basketball League would resume on May 6 with a League Management Board to run its affairs. The Kida faction swiftly responded with a threat to ban all teams that participate in the “illegal league.”
This is as the title sponsors of the league have adopted a siddon look approach. During its formal launch in October 2017, Chichi Nwoko, General Manager of Kwese Free Sports, said that the company would not interfere in the political crisis.
It is the same response I received during the writing of this article.
Despite the company’s interests being harmed as it cannot create content from the league to show to its audiences, it will continue to watch as things pan out.
The ideal action would have been to threaten the warring parties about withdrawing its multi-million dollars sponsorship if the NBBF does not put its house in order.
It can then watch to see them scamper to re-order their steps in fear of losing their big money deal.
And if that threat fails, Kwese could take its money and invest in the Nigeria Professional Football League that has been screaming for a TV deal since the end of its agreement with SuperSport.
If that doesn’t work, perhaps it is time to look to a better-organised basketball option, the Continental Basketball League.
The CBL would happily take the funding to grow its operations and the entertainment quality that it offers to fans.
What the politics of the NBBF has shown to us is the volatility of investing in sports in Nigeria.
This attitude will only ensure that corporates continue to see sport not as a veritable business that can guarantee ROI but as charity, something they do to keep the boys and girls occupied.
It is not a good example for the industry.