‘Why Nigerian football is not profitable’

By IAfrica
In Nigeria News Feed
Feb 7th, 2014
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Godwin Spiff Sagbama, the managing director and CEO of Hally Sports International has come a long way in television and radio sports presentation.
From a career that began in Radio Kwara in the ancient city of Ilorin, Sagbama has gone ahead to transcend the air waves like a colossus with his velvety voice. Sagbama, who is also the originator of the Sports Media Award, breezed into the offices of The Nation/SportingLife newspapers where he responded to a deluge of questions from Ade Ojeikere, Onyewuchi Nwachukwu, Julius Okorie and Robert Egbe. EXCERPTS

Every game the Eagles play gulps close to N44m. The NFF is always going cap in hand for funds. This isn’t how it is with football federations in other climes. Why is ours different?

Thank you very much. This is an area I love to talk about. First of all, I think the challenge we have is that we’ve not been able to put the right structures that transit our football. What I mean by that is if you look at the quality of men we have at our FA, it speaks volumes of what results you can get with respect to standards, international structures, and every other thing that comes with it.

First of all it is a marketing issue; if you look at the Spanish, German and Italian football, or the Argentine or Brazilian football, what they do is specifically invite all the players for the World Cup and agree on the emoluments. If we get to the first, second round, if we get to the quarter finals, semi finals or we get to the final, this is how much an individual player gets. So, it’s noted, the entire world knows about it. But all we do here is shrouded in secrecy. For instance, we’re aware that FIFA pays for business class for all the players and officials coming to the World Cup; nobody tells us that. We’re aware that FIFA also pays daily allowances; nobody tells us that. We’re equally aware that FIFA pays hotel bills; nobody tells us that. Now, all these monies are collected from government and when FIFA pays after the World Cup in bulk, the government itself does not know, so they share this money and it just goes into private pockets. So, the first thing we need to do, for me is to get our marketing right. For instance, in marketing, in sponsorship which I did study on in Frankfurt and London, what they’ll tell you is that you break down the different windows. I’ll give you an example, adidas is sponsoring our national team, we don’t know what comes into Nigeria from adidas. But adidas is not a philanthropic organization, it’s a business organization. Adidas will sit down with you to say, this is the value of your national team as at this moment, therefore, we’ll pay this value for your national team. And then we’re going to give you replica jerseys, say, for half of the price of your national team which you have to sell, and then we share the percentage in this format. But what we notice here is that the officials share these jerseys to their friends and cronies and they don’t sell the jerseys. So, by the time you come back to adidas, you’re unable to make account of the jerseys they printed for you to sell, and so nothing is coming to them, they’ll devalue your national team. Your national team value will go further down. So, these are the issues.

And for sponsorship, if you want sponsorship for your national team to thrive, then you must open up the windows. For instance, you open up a raft of sponsorship; a main sponsor, suppliers, and other windows like first tier, secondary, primary tier sponsors and then the partners and the suppliers. You define what each of them does. But here we just carry the sponsorship and give to one client and then you shut all the windows. You’re short-changing yourself because so many things you’re supposed to do to bring to board to benefit your national team, will not come in.

And we also see in this part of the world, football as a social service. Football is not a social service, it’s a big business thing, such that it must drive growth, it must drive production. The rest of the world, if you take Germany which is a good example of a government that cares about sports, the German government annually spends over three billion Euros on sports and this goes into all the other aspects of sports, all the facets, both the internationally known sports and their local sports. We have no business having a sports ministry in this country. What we should have is a sports agency, where the government appoints somebody who understands profit and loss to drive sports and this will drive the youth.

Nigeria says about 67% of it’s population are youths out of which about 45% or more are actively engaged in sports, but you see what they’re doing is just sports for the fun of it. There are no ladders for these young men and women to climb to get to a platform where there are economically benefited, productively engaged and, of course, grow the economy and be part of what is going on. So, these are the challenges we are having, and that is why sports, especially football in Nigeria, is not growing. So, if we run our clubs well in this country, you know that most of our clubs are appendages of state governments, so, no private individual will like to come in there, because if you do, your money will be spent and they just see it as a PR tool. No state government has seen football clubs as a business entities in such a way that they will develop it, invest in it and then structure it so that it can drive investment. These clubs are unable to be productive, they are unable to be economically viable, they’re unable to develop, and they’re unable to grow. So we remain in a status quo on a centrifugal force where we’re not making any progress.

From what you have said, is it economically beneficial for Nigeria to go to the World Cup?

I’ll tell you capital NO! We have no business going to the World Cup if we look at it from an economic point of view. All the World Cups we have participated in have been huge losses. You recall the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where the NFF hired a faulty aircraft that had only one engine to move the Super Eagles from London to South Africa until the Federal Government had to intervene and sent an Arik Air jet from Nigeria to move those players, issues of hotel reservation and all that. Now, at the end of the day what we see is that the officials are fatter than the players. The government does not know that FIFA pays for a lot of these things for the World Cup which goes to the officials. So, we need to tell this and make government understand that the World Cup is not just a festival of football, it’s a business thing that a lot of countries go to the World Cup and when they’re done, their football grows, their football develops, their football becomes economically viable, their football also drives youth employment and opens up other tournaments of endeavour, so, this is something we need to understand because those who are managing our football do not want us to move forward since they know that once these windows are opened up, they’re likely going to lose those megabucks that come into their private pockets without government knowledge. So, it’s for me very instructive that the government understands that in Nigeria, like other private wards that are into sports business, we have no business having a sports ministry.

To correct all of these anomalies, when you look at the characters in the Glass House, do you think we can achieve some of the things you have mentioned? What do you think we can do to correct these anomalies?

First of all,the danger is that, a man first of all needs to understand that he is limited. I think the danger is, the head of the place does not know. I think that he does not know, because for a man to make changes, he must first understand the reasons for those changes.I don’t think he knows and if he does not know, what do you do? You live with what he knows. And what he knows is what is going to drive him. So, if he’s supposed to be the head of an elephant rather than the tail of a goat, which one will you prefer, to be the head of a goat or the tail of an elephant? Now, the tail of an elephant only goes with the elephant where the elephant goes. But the head of a goat drives the body of the goat. So, I think it’s better to be the head of a goat than the tail of an elephant. What we have is a man who does not know that he knows, he does not know what to do. If you don’t know what to do to develop our football, he’s done well in the areas of trophies, if you talk about Nigeria qualifying for competitions, we can always qualify for competitions, whether there’s an FA chairman or not. We have the resources, we’re blessed with the talents, we can go for any competition. But the issue is where are the structures to drive positive things, to drive development, to drive engagement, drive production, empowerment of our youths.

At club level we have seen the crisis between club managers, – some call them club owners or whatever – and the League Management Company, and the bottom line, for discerning people, is the control of sponsorship funds from the title sponsor. What do you think is the way forward? Some of the clubs get money from state governments, some club chairmen and officials pay signing-on fees, some don’t pay at all. The players play for some years and some move on to other clubs. We’ve seen examples of this in the past couple of weeks. How do you think our clubs should be structured? What is the way forward? Do we continue to get money from state governments? Some say for state governments, it’s a social responsibility; employ some youths, get them off the streets, get them to play football. What should be the permanent solution to this problem?

Let’s look at some Nigerian club sides. Every season we hear that some clubs are given N100m, but at the end of it, players are not paid, signing-on fees are not paid. So,what happens to the N100m? Obviously, the money goes into private pockets from the ministry to the director. By the time it gets to the club chairman maybe what will be left will be about N20m or N25m. The club chairman also helps himself by editing something and so nothing is left to pay the players and officials. So, we have no business with state governments having clubs, if they do at all, what they should do is to invest some percentage in the community maybe 60 or 40% they hold and give the rest to the community because they need to finance it. So, that’s what you’re getting and that’s why the results cannot come out good, because no football club in Nigeria has any structure to grow, develop, create and then generate a business. Those ones that even have some form of private support, it’s just because those private people want to just identify, not because they have anything really to give back to them in terms of value, because for a private sponsor to come in, you must deliver value to him, and if he doesn’t see that value, he walks away.

The challenge for us is how to do things right. Once we don’t get them right, nothing is going to come. It’s just like you plant apple and you’re expecting to get orange, it won’t work. We must have the orientation of doing things right so that we’ll get it right. If you look at Germany, the German league, people don’t know, is the most watched league in the world.What the Germans have done is to make sure that all the external factors that affect other leagues and make their clubs bankrupt are removed. The community owns the club and then they finance it by annual contributions from the community members and then other shareholders that have 10-15% and all that, so the club has financial muscle to be able to withstand any challenge that comes. Once you’re born in a Dortmund community, for instance, you’re automatically a Dortmund supporter. Now, these clubs have fantastic academies that produce players for them, so, you hardly see Germans going outside their areas except Bayern, because they want to be more cosmopolitan. That’s not the case here in Nigeria. You see a Nigerian club recycling certain players for 20 years. The same player, he gets to a point his age reduces again by five years, he goes to another club, his age reduces again, and he’s been recycled because the coaches want to do signing-on fees rather than bringing in players from a younger level. So, it’s going take time for us to get it right as long as government continues to own these club sides.

I want to put you on the spot now. Do you agree that the government should hands off running of clubs? And if that happens, we may be left with only one or two clubs. Alternatively, do you agree that we should suspend our league until we get it right?

Wow! Two difficult options. First of all, this case you’re telling me, I was invited to the senate committee on sports sometime ago, to come and air my view on sports business and this question was posed to me, if you tell me that we should suspend the league until we get it right, I’ll say you no. The reason is very simple: you’re going to put the lives of many people in danger. Some of these players have nothing else to do than this sport, so, if you suspend it, what will they do? Where do you send them to? And secondly, the private sector in Nigeria are not going to just wake up one day and come into football, they will not do that. They must see the changes and the changes have to come from the top, the leadership. Once they see that the changes are radical, positively radical and they’re ready to do things right, look, I know a blue chip company today in Nigeria that the MD confided in me that he’s ready to fund a football club if the right things are done.

The other question was if I would want the government to stop…no, no, no, no. For now no, because if you do it now you’ll kill our football. Right now, no. But there are ways to do it. Let’s pick Rangers of Enugu, Rangers is in the Premier League, and you throw Rangers to the community to say, we want to sell 70% of the shares of Rangers International. The question is, do you think they will buy or they will not buy? Of course they would buy; because Rangers for them is a culture. Rangers, for them, is a monument. Rangers, for them, is something they love, they want to identify with, they don’t want anything to happen to their beloved Rangers. So, they will buy. And so, throw 70% of Rangers shares to the community and then the club is alive and well. And then you get men who understand the books. You see when you give a man who does not know profit and loss an organisation to run,he will kill it. That’s what happens.So,those are basically the things we need to get right and we’ll move forward.

Statistics show that there are a lot of Nigerians who are in managerial positions abroad and they are running their organisations well. Why is it difficult for us to do the same here, I mean get competent people to manage these clubs?

The issue is that are we interested in getting the right people? If yes, now who is the person there? I keep hammering on addressing the issue of the quality of the persons who are about to leave the office. Are they afraid that they have done something wrong and they need a surrogate to come in and help them protect the empire? Or they want the place to work well and therefore damn the consequences and look for a man who can drive the place and make things work well? Those are the issues, so, if you have a man who has skeletons to hide, he’s going to look for an idiot to come in and cover up. He’s going to look for a man who will devalue the system. He’s going to look for a man who does not have the operational understanding of the system, to come in there and make sure that the status quo remains. I think that’s what we’re experiencing in sports. We have quality men who are well trained and well schooled to hold their ground anywhere, and like you rightly pointed, outside of this country, Nigerians are doing well, they’re are in leadership positions in several cadres of leadership in different countries, even as far as the United States, in Great Britain, in Germany there are Nigerians who are leading organisations and they’re doing so well. So, now, those countries realise that what they are looking for is the best. The private sector does a little bit of that, but I think the public sector is very guilty of not allowing our best hands to take over positions of authority and in sports we are very guilty of that, we make sure that the right people who have something to offer are schemed out of the system, those who have nothing to offer come into the system . We’ve seen in this country where some persons came eighth in an interview and they were given the job, ahead of the man who came first, second, third. It’s absurd! You can’t do that in any serious organisation. So, in such a system, you can’t expect anything to progress from it.

The annual Sports Business Media Award is in it’s third edition. What inspired the creation of this award, because some would say there have been so many awards, some are mercantile,how is this award different.

Fantastic. You know in my office what we try to do is to ruminate ideas. We’ve had ideas; what have people done, what can we do to be different. What new things can we do. And I must confess to you that by the grace of God, before the World Cup the concept we have created, nobody has done it anywhere in the world. It’s about football, it’s coming out very soon. We have friends that are working with us very soon. You’ll be shocked that, Oh! Somebody can do something like this. Now having said that, all the awards that have been done before only addressed players, officials. Look the people who made this people, nobody addressess them. …… So we sat down and said there’s a misnomer somewhere. These are the people that do all the work, they travel, sleeping outside, not even sleeping well, to make sure that Nigerians follow their teams, follow their events. So, we said let’s focus on the events sponsors, they’re the people that are the real kingmakers in this country and if we do not honour ourselves, nobody will honour us. That was where the inspiration came from. Let us focus on ourselves. It came out well and everybody was like ‘yeah, yeah, nobody has done something like this before, this is different.’ That was how it started. We put five million of our funds in the first edition, last year we spent more. The awareness is coming up now, and you talked about some other awards being mercantile. Never will ours. I swear with the name of God, I cannot do it. All the people that won our awards so far, we’ve never met them for a dime, we’ve not approached them and said, oh Zenith bank you’re going to win, so we need you to bring one million naira. We never did that and it’ll be like that. For the media guys, everybody that has won an award, you can go interview them. We’ve never approached any one of them to give us money, it’ll never be. Rather, what we’re even doing now, we’re looking for sponsors that will sponsor all the segments so that if you’re the Photographer of the Year, as you’re picking the award as Photographer of the Year, a cheque will come with it, at least N500 000, for your Christmas, your family, have a good Christmas; that’s what we’re walking on right now. That in the Sport Business and Media Award, journalists will be well rewarded. That’s where we are now, that’s the stage we’re working on. We trust God it’ll come through by his grace. For us the Nigerian sports journalist is not well recognised, he’s not well celebrated, so we created this award to celebrate the Nigerian sports journalist. From every nook and cranny, if you’re a photographer, if you’re an editor, everbody is equal. Once you get into the award hall we’re all the same. A levelling ground. You know John Momoh told me something at the last edition. He said: ‘ I’ve seen that the award is very credible and that is why most of these private people will not come because they go to the awards where they are blackmailed because of the dirty things they do, those who blackmail them, that’s where they go, but maintain the focus, maintain the credibilty, maintain the accountability, and no other award will stand you.”

So, for us that award is very special on our calendar, in our events and we want Nigerian sports journalists to come there, relax, enjoy themselves, and then get those who have done well properly rewarded, and for the very first time, an award in Nigeria where the nominees will see the results online on screen; right there they saw everything, they were shown the results, how people voted. So nobody doctored, nobody touched anything. Most of the voters actually confessed to me that they tried to vote twice but couldn’t. The security we put on the website was tough it actually had a camera and a software, so, once you go once and you vote, it picks your picture. So any other system you go to, your picture is already there on the file. The young man who did it, just about 24 or 25 who gave us that IT security said, ‘I’ll do this for you and nobody can break it.’ And it worked magic, so, we intend to continue with it and then give it more credibility and publicity, so that sponsors can come in and once sponsors start coming in, we’ll be able to say Sports Photographer of the Year, Sports Editor of the Year, you have a cheque you will get.

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