Sports Sponsorship: What Nigerian Brands can Learn from South African Brands… and AITEO

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Nigerian companies must realise that when they invest in local sports they do themselves a world of good. Sponsoring domestic sports must be seen as a business imperative; a means of survival, and not merely corporate social responsibility. In the most progressive countries both the public and private sectors invest heavily in sports because of their unique power to engage populations: create jobs, inspire achievement, engender camaraderie and unity, ingrain a culture of healthy living, reduce crime, and arouse national pride on the international stage.

S outh Africa is arguably the most modern country in Africa and it stands out on the continent when it comes to private sector investments in sports. Their approach is one that the rest of Africa, and especially Nigeria, must emulate. The North Africans also invest heavily in sports relative to their poorer cousins south of the Sahara, and again maybe there is a correlation between this and the level of progress in the regions.

Sport is big business in the more dynamic societies. A recent PwC report estimated that in 2015 global sports sponsorship reached $45b – out of which Africa contributed less than $2b – with South Africa shelling out the lion share. A different report by Repucom estimates that global sponsorship could reach $62m by 2017. South African companies would again play a leading role in Africa after investing about 9m rands (N243b) in sponsoring sports in 2016.

Rather than invest in building our domestic sports, big Nigerian brands pump billions into foreign sports. Our utter devotion to the English Premier League tells the story best. Every year Nigerians burn about N50b in TV rights and subscriptions, tourism, merchandising, etc, to feed this EPL fetish. Business leaders, who should have sleepless nights over the resulting shrinking of disposable income and how it negatively impacts their own bottom-lines, are the ones at the forefront of the EPL craze. Top political leaders, who should be mindful of creating jobs for their electorate locally, fly themselves to England in private planes to watch football games.

One big Nigerian company is however playing a different game. The Aiteo group’s recent N2.5b sponsorship of the Nigerian Federation (FA) Cup is an exception. Most big Nigerian brands act too sexy for things “local”, while some point to the corruption and incompetence in the industry as a major turn off. While no one can argue that domestic sports need more professional and transparent management, weakening the local economy by sponsoring Arsenal, Manchester United or Chelsea instead of Rangers, Enyimba or Plateau United would neither make our society richer nor better.

Just months ago, few knew about the existence of Aiteo, but today they have great visibility, talkability and goodwill. More than anything else however, they have put many Nigerians to work by this act. The Aiteo Cup (FA Cup) is being played smoothly and getting great coverage, while the company has very sensibly demanded that standards be raised, which is as it should be. Put you money down first, then demand better standards.

Even if one advocates that the top 20 companies in Nigeria invest one or two billion naira each in our sports annually that would still leave us quite some distance behind the South Africans. Big businesses like Dangote Group, Globacom, MTN, Airtel, First Bank, UBA, Ecobank, GT Bank, Zenith Bank, Union Bank, Shell, Mobil, Chevron, Forte Oil, Oando, Chi Group, Nestle, NB Plc, Shoprite, DSTV, Startimes, Julius Berger, should be able to put down a couple of billions every year, while public behemoths like NNPC, NIMASA and NPA can be tasked with putting in N5b and more.

This is more a business strategy for self-preservation than an appeal for corporate social responsibility. It would ensure a much wealthier society, and ultimately, increased business for these companies and brands. The guys in South Africa cannot be stupid, these guys know their investment in sports opens up opportunities in almost every sector from sports to tourism, construction, medicine, retailing, road and air travels, media, agriculture, food and beverages; the list goes on.

I am personally involved in a great sports initiative called the Nigerian Tennis Majors that we believe can transform the domestic sports industry. Our plan is to organize four high-stakes tennis opens in four cities across Nigeria every year. With a few hundred million we can have regular top class tournaments that will create a new generation of deserving local heroes who can then go and take on the world. This would also open up business opportunities in several industries, especially in the host cities. With our youth population exploding almost unchecked, initiatives like this are imperative to keep our young on the straight and narrow. Throwing money at the EPL won’t do that.

They understand this logic in South Africa better than we do in Nigeria. The SA Rugby body, for instance, has over 20 big local sponsors. Here are some: FNB bank, Southern Palace Group of Companies, MTN, Supersport, Asics, Steinhoff, OutSurance, Castle Lager, Land Rover, Tsogo Sun, Energade, Nashua, Coca Cola, Vodacom, Direct Axis, Powerade, BSN Medical, Fly Safair, Springboks Atlas, Virgin Active, Bidvest Car Rental, RAM, Rhino, Gilbert.

Their football league (The PSL) has its own fair share of big local backers like banking giants ABSA, who have signed a new deal this year to continue their ten-year long sponsorship for another five years. All over the world, banks play a leading role in sports sponsorship and our banks must wake up to this for their own good. Other PSL sponsors include Nedbank, MTN, Telkom, Multichoice, Carling Black Label of SAB Miller and hospitality giants Tsogo Sun.

By far the most popular sport in Nigeria is football, yet only one big local sponsor – Star lager – is behind the football league. Other sports are virtually comatose because our big brands would rather throw money at foreign sports. That only puts people to work overseas, not in Nigeria where unemployment figures are staggering. We need to learn from the South Africans. We will be richer and more progressive for it.