Nigeria: Why Private Sponsorship of Football Clubs Is Failing in Nigeria

In football-loving countries world over, the establishment and management of clubs is done by private entities, whose motive of ownership is good return on investment in the beautiful game.

The owners of these football clubs are often fascinated by what they hope to get from proceeds on gate takings, sales of souvenirs, TV rights, and most especially, the resolute loyalty from the clubs' 'die-hard' spectators, who are actually the drive behind globalising these clubs beyond the shore of where the league is being played.

In How not to run a football club, an article in UK's The Conversation magazine, it was noted, "clubs seeking high level and regular success must resort to buying the best talents and paying a lot of money for them.

Alternatively, a club can develop its own talents, but this too takes time and, indeed, money. But making money in football is severely restricted by the potential costs that clubs can incur."

Another submission in The Guardian of London Magazine, How to Run a Football Club, stated, "a football club is different from any other business entity.

The stakeholders in this case are the fans. The fans' investment is their support, while their return comes in the form of the emotional gratification all football fans desire, be it through chasing promotion, surviving relegation or a cup run. In order to guarantee this return, all a football club needs to do is exist.

"Despite this clear difference, in order to guarantee the future of all football clubs, the worlds of football and business have to work together. For too long, football clubs have not followed the basic principles of running any successful business. Beyond being successful as a club, there needs to be assistance from the Football League to guarantee the long-term survival of all clubs."

However, reasons for setting up of clubs in Nigeria differ. While majority of the clubs are formed to create jobs for the youth, some came out of passion or love for the game.

But worse off is the fact that in the clubs run by the various governments the funds released to manage them are mismanaged and unaccounted for, and at the end of the day, the clubs are not able to fulfill their potentials, as against the money making motive by clubs in the western parts of the world.

These Nigerian clubs owned by state governments don't care about profit because they know that whatever happens the government would pay the bills. But that is not always the case as oftentimes, the governments find it difficult to fulfill their obligations to the club, hence they are unable to pay players and officials as at when due.

The free-money system has also made the football market uncompetitive as the privately owned clubs find it difficult to operate in such climates. It has been an unfair competition for the privately owned clubs. The situation, according to stakeholders, has made it difficult for the private sector to play major roles in the club football system.

Explaining the difficulties private clubs face in Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Enakhena, who runs all the sporting activities of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries (MFM) Worldwide, described the league as a tough terrain in which even the richest Nigerians find difficult to operate.

"It has been very tough to be honest, but the future of the youth of Nigeria has kept us going. Recall that Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries Football Club was borne out of the need to reposition the youths. This was the mission statement by our General Overseer, Dr. Daniel Olukoya and we are not looking back.

"The League Management Company operates also in a very challenging environment and are not immune from the system. They are doing their best, but we hope for a better tomorrow. Some private clubs invest so much in sports in Nigeria with the hope that they can get returns on investment as they progress but they are frustrated by the system. While private clubs see sports as the big business that it is the world over, government-owned clubs are set up primarily as public relations tools or better put as corporate social responsibilities. They're not set up to make profit.

"Sadly, because government runs sports in Nigeria, the private clubs cannot compete with them. Government clubs have so much money to play around with and there is no accountability in most cases. Most private clubs cannot afford this luxury. Government owns the stadiums; they own the bodies that run sports in the country too.

"Again, some of the private clubs are set up for selfish reasons. For instance, some rich businessmen see running football clubs as an avenue to gain popularity among their people and they use the short-term success achieved to go into politics and once they get into political offices, the clubs die natural deaths because the politicians have no need for the clubs anymore.

"Until we put in place a structure that sees sports as a billion dollar industry, we will continue to have opportunists take advantage of these.

"The biggest challenge is the Herculean task of traveling across the length and breath of Nigeria to play games. Most times the team has to fly to the northern part of Nigeria, while the rest are done by road. The players are human and that means you have to get a fairly large squad to prosecute games.

"Let us not forget about accommodation and feeding while on the road, salaries and so many other overheads, but we are coping," he said.

In the early 1980s, Leventis United based in Ibadan, Oyo State was one of the most successful clubs in Nigeria. The club presented a blueprint on how a successful club should be run.

Leventis United's success within the short period of its existence galvanised other private individuals to delve into club football business. Hence, Nigeria had such clubs as Abiola Babes, Iwuanyanwu Nationale, Flash Flamingoes and Obanta United.

This was an era the country's football was dominated by clubs owned by firms such as NEPA, Julius Berger, National Bank, ACB, First Bank, IBWA, Stationery Stores and Nigerian Railways.

Reminiscing on the team that became the toast of the country's football followers when it breezed through the old Division Three League to Division One, spending only one season in each lower division before becoming the country's undisputed champions in 1986 at his 70th birthday, the defunct Leventis United's Chairman, John Mastoroudes revealed that aside from the troubles he had with some Leventis Group directors, "the NFA's attitude to clubs was one of the problems that eventually forced Leventis United and some other clubs to close shop.

"The people at the NFA were not doing what they were supposed to do. I remember in one Challenge Cup game, the stadium had minimum of 80,000 spectators here in Lagos but when we came out, they told us there were 9,000 tickets. These kinds of things were happening all along. We were representing Nigeria in Africa and we were not given any money, we had to pay all the cost of travelling on our own.

"Chief Abiola, Chief Iwuanyanwu and I met and we agreed that we were going to disband our teams so as to shake up NFA a bit. Besides, our sponsors were not eager to pay that kind of money anymore. Abiola and Leventis kept their words but Chief Iwuanyanwu came back and said he did not own the team; that it belonged to his state, so he could not disband the club. He even requested from me that I passed some of my players to him, which I did," Masteroudes said.

Former Nigeria Football Federation Technical Director, Chief Kashimawo Laloko believes private sponsorship of clubs will always fail in the country unless the system changed.

According to him, those that went into it in the first place knew why they did so, but regretted it afterward due to gross mismanagement of funds by those saddled with the task running the clubs.

"For the politicians, they set up clubs simply for their egos, but they could not continue after a while because the people they put in charge were not honest.

"This was what happened to clubs like the Iwuanyanwu Nationale of Owerri in Imo State sponsored by a philanthropist, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu. The individuals in charge of the club messed him up.

"They collected his money and went on to sack the whole club. Also, the money Chief Moshood Abiola spent on the defunct Abiola Babes of Abeokuta was enough to continue after his death. It was the same reason that people were messing up with the club and the players that made even a club like Leventis United to go into extinction.

"Even now, I cannot see the difference between the privately sponsored clubs and the ones sponsored by the governments. Show me also one government-owned club that has not been through this misappropriation of funds we're talking about. And when you try to interfere, they do not like it; they quarrel with you for interfering because they use it as a tool of making money.

"Look at Shooting Stars today. I want to really commend Rangers International of Enugu. In spite of all the odds, the government was still able to manage the club. People have done things that can ruin the club but some people have refused to let it die. For instance, there was a time a sum of money was stolen in the club and up till today they cannot explain where the money went into, but the government was very careful in handling it. Today, the club is receiving some stability and if others can do that it will help.

"Look at Nasarawa United, where are they today? Ranchers Bees of old, where are they today? Government gave them money and they misappropriated the whole thing. So, when those who are ready to sponsor clubs come around to hear this, they get discouraged because they know that some people might be out to feed fat on them and they may probably withdraw.

"Frankly speaking, most of these private entities establish clubs for political reasons, but I do not see anything wrong with that if they can maintain it by a way of providing employment for the youth. But unfortunately, our people don't understand that. Apart from poor administration, some teams are technically poor in management because they choose not to be honest in what they are doing, and so the club is being extinguished from existence. If one tries to understand what one is supposed to do, it will help the proprietor by being honest. But all these people are not honest; all they are after is that they want to make money as long as it makes them happy.

However, aside from managing these privately owned clubs well technically and otherwise, the other way to support them is by also giving them the enablement to operate by the league management body. I am sure by the time this is done the future of this country will be brighter," Laloko said.

One-time Gombe FA chairman, Ahmed Shuaibu-Gara Gombe, opined that sponsorship of clubs in the country has to do with corporate institutions trying to identify a platform that they can use to promote their brands, adding that this has to be operated under the minimum standard of global best practices of corporate governance. "But unfortunately, the institution running our football is not operating under the minimum standard of global best practices.

"So by extension, every other institution under it suffers the same jaundice. Therefore, the club in this case will find it difficult to attract sponsorship or any form of partnership. If you look at the management structure of our league management body itself, it is faulty completely.

"From the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to League Management Company (LMC) to Nigeria National League (NNL) to Nigeria Women League (NWL) all those structures are faulty. No corporate organisation will like to identify with such kind of epileptic structures.

"The other factor why private sponsorship of clubs is failing in Nigeria is corruption, which has been the order of the day in the country. No serious individual trying to float a club will like to identify with an institution that promotes corruption in a very glaring manner like what we see today in our football because they have names to protect.

"Then the third reason is transparency, which is lacking in the management of football clubs in the country. Many of these clubs' administrators just collect money from their sponsors yearly knowing they would not be called to account for such monies.

"This is because some of the club administrators help their governors during elections and they are rewarded for their loyalty. Things would change when clubs are tasked to fund their activities through the revenue they generate from their activities.

"And to get to that level, we need to bring down the structures of the various leagues and rebuild them to enable them to become private organisations like the Rotary Clubs. Have you ever heard of anybody questioning the way the Rotary Club is run? Ownership of private football clubs in Nigeria is the most difficult thing to do because those managing football don't want private clubs to exist because of their pecuniary interest."

The former Gombe FA chairman also believes the laws governing Nigerian football are part of the problems of the country's club football.

"It is only in Nigeria that government establishes the football statute through NFF Act of 2004. It is wrong.

"FIFA in Zurich is a private organisation, like an NGO. But in Nigeria, it was an act of parliament that established football, which kept it under public control. And so we are just deceiving ourselves that government cannot have a say in the running of our football in this country.

"There is no difference between the Nigeria Ports Authority, the Nigeria Railway Corporation and the NFF."

Positing that private clubs cannot survive under the current administrative structure, former FIFA instructor, Adegboye Onigbinde said the country was not yet ready to embrace professionalism in its football. He insists there are no football clubs yet in the country. To him, all the clubs in existence are mere parastatals, while those run by individuals are mere personal ventures.

"In Nigeria, we do not have one football club by FIFA regulations. FIFA regulation says that the governing body of any football club must be democratically elected. But among the clubs in the country, none conducted elections into their boards; be it Rangers of Enugu, Shooting Stars of Ibadan, Kano Pillars and the rest of them. That is the more reason why our club football is suffering because 'novices' are the ones running the Nigeria Professional Football League with little or no knowledge of club administration.

"In 1984 or thereabout, I was in South Korea as part of FIFA's delegation to that country. It was the period they were about to commence professional football league. In the conditions laid down for the prospective clubs, only three of them qualified and that was how the professional league got off with just three clubs.

"Here in the country, we do not have a standard. There are a lot of things wrong with our club football. Most of the problems are administrative, not technical. Clubs like Ifeanyi Ubah, MFM and ABS are more or less private endeavours because they do not have boards in place. For them to be known as clubs, they must have boards based on FIFA's regulation like the ones we have in Europe and the rest of them," he said.

According to the former coach of the Super Eagles, as long as the running of clubs is left in the hands of party loyalists and not technocrats, there would continue to be a dip in the country's club football.

"By FIFA's regulation, we don't have one football club in the country. By Article 19 of the world governing body's status, any football body, which also includes club sides, must have a democratically elected board. But what we have here are mere parastatals of states' government loyalists, who lack the knowledge of clubs football administration," he stated.

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