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Sport gets a chance at the economic roundtable

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Members of the Nigerian Football Supporters Club are mobilising support for the Super Eagles ahead of the crucial 2018 World Cup qualifying matches against Cameroun.


Sport is big business, we always hear. But in Nigeria, sport has been relegated to the back pages of newspapers for such a long time that the only time it makes the front page is when a major title or victory is achieved. This means that many corporate organisations have also resorted to seeing sport mainly as something to get involved in as a CSR effort instead of as a business venture. This image has not been helped by the poor management of sports properties and events across the country.

However, there is a new shift happening in sports that may escape many but not for a long time. For the first time, sport will be a major talking point at the Nigerian Economic Summit in Abuja on October 11. The potentials of Nigerian sport will be explored at a panel discussion that will include hierarchy of the Central Bank of Nigeria, private industry and members of the Nigerian sports fraternity. The panel will look at how sport can become a major contributor to the Nigerian economy as the government continues to search for ways to diversify its earnings.

One of the major ways to see the potential of sport in Nigeria is to look at the contribution of Nigerians to the earnings of international sports products, like the English Premier League, the UEFA Champions League, the Formula 1, the FIFA World Cup, among many others. Every year Nigerian households spend billions in cable subscription fees to watch football from around the world. Many Nigerians make annual pilgrimages to England to watch their favourite EPL teams in London, Manchester and Liverpool where they spend lots of hard currency to buy tickets and memorabilia for family members, friends and associates.

Fifteen Nigerian companies will spend 110billion Naira to associate themselves with the glamour of the EPL, La Liga and the UEFA Champions League between 2016 and 2019. With the 2018 FIFA World Cup around the corner and the Super Eagles set to qualify with a win against Zambia on Saturday, Nigerian companies will spend several billions to associate with the tournament through broadcast advertising deals, prints ads and radio jingles. Many companies will run campaigns to send their consumers to watch games in Russian cities. Thousands of Nigerians are already waiting to purchase tickets at an average cost of $105 (37,900 Naira) for group matches as soon as the Super Eagles confirm their place in Russia.

Yet, the domestic sports economy earns so little from the purchasing power of the Nigerian elite – companies and individuals. Why is this so? And could this change in the nearest future?

With the focus on sport at the #NES23 in Abuja next week, Nigeria is beginning to consider that sport could play a role in economic development just like the entertainment sector has begun to contribute to the nation’s gross domestic product. Despite the recession, the Nigerian arts, entertainment and recreation sector contributed 54billion Naira to the economy in 2016, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. The bulk of the money made from the arts and entertainment segments as sports continues to play catch up.

But there is great potential for sports to become as important for Nigeria as Nollywood and Afrobeats, the hugely popular genre of music that has become a staple across the continent and gaining airplay in the Caribbean, the United States and Europe. Those industries have grown despite the little structures put in place by government agencies. They have thrived out of the sheer determination of practitioners and marketers who have been helped by new digital platforms that make their works accessible all over the world.

Sport, on the other hand, needs government to invest in modern facilities that will ensure that local sports events become as attractive as going to watch a game in the biggest arenas in Europe. It does not help the image of Nigerian sport when families cannot visit stadia due to fear of not finding clean, working toilets. The role of government is to invest in facilities that will enable private clubs to find talents and thrive by marketing their events.
With the increase in investments in cable television both locally and across the continent, there is a great potential in the broadcasting of sports events. The arrival of Kwese TV and TSTV means that competition will grow for SuperSport and StarTimes over sports rights. It is an opportunity for the sports sector to grow on the back of television.

Nigeria’s huge population means there is a market. However, the market is just emerging from the recession and needs to be well researched in order to sell sport to it. Sports organisations like the League Management Company and its Nigeria Professional Football League as well as the Nigeria Football Federation, the Nigeria Basketball Federation, among others, must begin to see the economic opportunities and position themselves to gain from the successes of their various national teams.

The interest shown by the Nigerian Economic Summit Group in sport is a signal that sport can become top of the agenda. As sport is being put on the economic roundtable, stakeholders need to overcome their inertia and the penchant to depend on government crumbs and handouts. It is time to develop winning marketing plans that will attract big spenders and push Nigerian sport into a place of greater socio-economic relevance.



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