Mystery of the absent fans (2)

By Segun Agbede.

Segun Agbede

Segun Agbede

In the Nigerian football fraternity, we sometimes suffer from what I’d term as ‘their own is much better than our own’ mentality. Everything foreign is good, most things Nigerian are bad. On the various social networking forums, people pontificate on the ills bedevilling Nigerian football, while waxing lyrical about the virtues of the European football. It is so sad that we don’t realise that the Nigeria Professional Football League is a veritable goldmine. Yes, it maybe an uncharted terrain but we have the human resources to make the NPFL one of the best in the world.

No doubt, the NPFL has fundamental issues which have been detrimental to its growth. There are those involved at every level of the game, trying to subvert the inevitable rationalisation process. These individuals thrive on chaos and ignorance. They profit from the imbalances in an imperfect system. It is in their interest to see the NPFL locked in a vicious cycle, where minimal investment in the league is producing a sub-standard product which in turn is unable to attract the requisite investment.

These parasites are too myopic to see that if our football is allowed to develop the way it should, much more money will be made rather than the crumbs they currently scramble for. In an era of mass unemployment, the sports sector has the capacity to provide gainful employment for thousands of Nigerians.

I’ve also grown weary of the superciliousness in certain quarters, so-called experts forever talking about the negative aspects of the NPFL without proffering any solution. Football is the game of the masses, let us take it back to them. The only way to show investors that our league is viable is to get fans back into our stadiums, on a weekly basis.

Last week, I spoke about terrestrial television stations covering Nigerian football. Satellite television due to its inherent cost is not affordable for the majority of Nigerians But almost everybody who has a television set at home can watch NTA for free.  Just imagine if millions of Nigerians were watching two NPFL matches a week. The players would become instant household names. The truth of the matter is that fans won’t go to the stadium if they don’t know the players. I suspect that even Arsenal, the most popular English Premier League club among Nigerian fans, would struggle to fill stadiums if they come on a playing tour to Nigeria without any of their established stars.

The players are the key property of the clubs and the clubs owe the players a duty to promote them and conversely enlighten the fans about their players. In this internet era, all clubs must of necessity have their own websites with the personal details/performance statistics of their players prominently displayed and easily accessible.

The NPFL is currently on a two-week mid-season break, it could do with a lot more publicity in its second half. I don’t know if the clubs have public relations offices; but they should have. These PR offices would be responsible for publicizing the club’s NPFL games, especially local derbies/high profile matches by  publishing and advertising the fixtures in the the local print and electronic media,  as well as the physical distribution of flyers prior to match days.

We must also utilise the greatest resource available to us, our youths. I was privileged to attend the Delta Governors Cup final in Warri some weeks back. I was blown away by the sight of the 20,000-seater Warri City Stadium, filled to capacity with cheering secondary school pupils. If schools and the clubs can come to an arrangement, where pupils are transported to the stadium to watch NPFL games for free, we will create a whole new fan base.

Entertainment is another key factor that can attract fans back to our stadiums. The sports world can borrow a leaf from both Nollywood and the music industry. The Nigerian film industry has metamorphosed from a joke less than 20 years ago to a billion naira industry. Sports is also a form of entertainment, we have to marry these two worlds. The first time I saw D’banj play live was at the closing ceremony of the African Cup of Nations in South Africa. His song, Oliver Twist, has been indelibly etched in my memory since we danced to it in Rustenberg after our incredible quarter-final victory over Cote d’Ivoire.

At the half-time of the Governor’s Cup, artistes Davido and Seyi Shey performed to the very enthusiastic crowd. There is a definite synergy between youth, entertainment and football just waiting to be exploited. A collaboration can be established between Nollywood and NPFL stars to raise the players’ profile and get the fans to identify with them. So few of our NPFL players are instantly recognizable.

I dare to dream that the fans will be re-engaged, that our stadiums will be full  once again and that  the NPFL will regain its lost glory.

Credits: Written by Segun Agbede, The Pundit ([email protected]; Twitter: @SegunThePundit). Originally published in  Punch of June 29, 2013.

Our comment: This is a mind arresting opinion written by a man who genuinely loves Nigerian football. We hope that soon, our local league will be competing with other world leagues favorably but a stitch in time saves nine.