The Arsenal Story and Why the EPL Should be a Worry (1)


In the course of the week a friend drew my attention to a CNN report that showed that after London, Lagos was the city with the highest sale of Arsenal jerseys in the world. It boggles the mind that a city in a sub-Saharan Africa with a colossal population of desperately poor people, is where millions of pounds are spent on the jerseys of a foreign club. Not in Chile where Alexis Sanchez, arguably Arsenal’s biggest star is from; not in Germany where another star Mezut Ozil is from. But the picture is far worse when you consider that the same free-spending habit is found among Nigerian fans of other popular English clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. Indeed, the money that Nigerians spend on the EPL annually should worry every major consumer business in the country as well as the government.

The Daily Mail UK recently reported that Supersport, that has the EPL broadcast rights for sub-Saharan Africa, agreed to double the current £84m they pay annually to 168m pounds from 2019 to 2022. To have a sense of how crazy the figure is, the company with the rights to the Chinese market for 2016-2019 SSMG is paying just £13m per annum. That means sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s poorest region, is paying six times more than China. Not only does the Chinese population top that of sub-Saharan Africa, they are the second richest country in the world, one to whom the beggarly nations of Africa creep to for aid on a regular basis.

The rights for North America belong to NBC who are currently paying £128m annually in a six-year deal from 2016 to 2022. Although a new deal will see the Chinese pay £180m annually from 2019, it is curious the area we go head-to-head with the world economic superpowers is in splashing cash on English football. To my mind, it is sheer insanity for sub-Saharan Africa to even pay a quarter of what China or America are paying.

Even worse is that Nigerians have to fork out much of the money as we probably account for half of sub-Saharan Africa’s revenues. That’s a whooping £42m, which as of the time of writing this was N20.3b. Add Supersport’s top-ups and we are probably looking at N30b or more in subscription fees for a season. And that is only a part of the costs. There would probably be a further N10b or much more from merchandising. Recently, a friend related to me how he was at Old Trafford to buy Manchester United items and was surprised at the number of Nigerians in the store. He remembered one in particular because the guy spent over 2,000 pounds at a go. There are also the jet-set supporters who fly all the way to the UK in their private jets just to watch their clubs play, and others who simply shop at the UK malls or duty free shops without going to the stadiums.

In effect, we are looking at the possibility of Nigerian fans extracting about N50b annually from our recession-hit economy to dump in the UK economy. Even if you half that figure because of our economic woes, you would still get a frightening number.

All that money is what a marketing man calls disposable income. Disposable income is what is available to the person to invest, save or spend after his taxes. That is what you spend on beverages, shares, clothes, mobile phones and airtime etc. So imagine what our companies are losing in sales every year as these monies are withdrawn from our banks and pumped into the UK economy.

That money that should go into the books of Nigerian companies – many of whom are struggling. Some have folded up or retrenched staff or are unable to pay salaries. Sadly, some of these companies have helped to perpetuate the popularity of the EPL by sponsoring the games and clubs, while neglecting the local football league.

It is payback time. These days I allow my DTSV subscription to drift for days before re-subscribing; life has become hard in Nigeria. I am not alone in this. I have found out, many have stepped down their bouquet choices or have stopped paying altogether. It is clear for all to see that even the mighty DSTV is reeling from our economic woes as they have cut their sponsorship of domestic leagues in several sub-Saharan countries.

Our beverage companies are failing to sell their premium brands, and are instead flooding the markets with low-end alternatives. Every sector is suffering. To be clear, football alone is neither the cause of all our problems nor the sole solution, but the money we are losing in football annually is staggering. Think what can do in Nigeria if we pushed hard to get our football and other sports right?