In a few hours our dear country would almost certainly qualify for the 2018 World Cup after a showdown with Zambia in Uyo. The Super Eagles would secure the ticket to Russia, with a game to spare, if they manage a win over the plucky Chipolopolo who grabbed continental attention last month after a stunning double over star-studded Algeria. Despite the form of the Zambians however, many still expect the job done by the Super Eagles who themselves have had a near perfect campaign. Should we book our place at the quadrennial international, the calculators will fly out as stakeholders estimate the economic windfall for everyone: team, federation, business, media and all. We are probably looking at tens of billions of naira in fresh investments in the team by sponsors, the government, fans and FIFA.
Success has many friends, and the Super Eagles will not lack any if they qualify. Many will forget that to reach this stage the team suffered all sorts of indignities because they lacked quality financial support. They will also conveniently forget that rather than giving, or helping the team get, support, they were more focused on other teams in faraway lands. In Nigeria you are on your own until you find some success.
But we have a way of moving on as if the past did not happen. Soon enough the media gurus, the advertising agencies, and the big brands will step out of the woods to gush about their support for the team and country. Gone will be all the talk of European football being the ‘best’ entertainment. The Nigerian Football Federation and its president Amaju Pinnick will not want for new devotees. There will be plenty of backslapping and fine dining all around, and many will seek to win him over with tall tales about how the Eagles will blow everyone away in Russia.
However it will all be about the money and what each can get for themselves. When you think about it, nobody really gets a business contract from Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Arsenal in these parts because of their endless howling of their love and support for the clubs. Try quantifying in financial terms the amount of free promotion we give European football in our media and you would easily be looking at hundreds of billions annually. Yet I have not seen anyone that has received a single contract from the European clubs or FAs because of this.
Instead we make money for them, we devote thousands of pages and thousands of hours promoting their football, while our football and even the Super Eagles are left in the background. Thanks to our leading, we have passed the culture to the next generation – our children. Today Nigerians under 30 know more, and care more, about the English national team than the Super Eagles. Yet, apart from school boy pleasures, we derive almost nothing in business terms from overseas because of this. Here, in Nigeria, is after all where we earn our living.
This is why some of us relentlessly argue that backing our domestic football makes simple financial sense. Without this kind of success we are all poorer. Missing out on the last two Africa Cup of Nations finals would have cost many in the industry tons of money. So shouldn’t we be thinking more about growing Nigerian football than European football? Whereas one is a sure ticket to better quality living, the other is simply entertainment?
The more successful our football is, surely the more money pours into our game, and into our pockets. All the sponsorship that the Super Eagles will get, will trickle down to us: journalists, marketing and advertising professionals, banks, telcos, etc. Why wait every four years for the World Cup, or every two years for the Nations Cup, when we can have this sort of financial bounce almost every week if we get behind our domestic football and sports the way it was in the 1970s and 80s. Even if we think our football is not perfect, none is by the way, who are we waiting for to create the perfection if not you and I?
We must learn to build so we can reap bountifully. The fact is, these days, we don’t build our own. Ours is not sexy enough. So rather than create wealth for ourselves at home, we are satisfied to stay poor while helping the Europeans get richer. Talk about the Parable of Talents. Just look at the standard of living of the Nigerian sports writer or analyst relative to his European contemporary. While we spend our time living their dreams, the European media usually only covers Nigerian football when it concerns a Nigerian player in their league or when there is some ugly development. Over 90% of their time, they devote to their own domestic games. Their sponsors do the same, while Nigerian sponsors act like the rest of us by draining scarce funds from our distressed economy to sponsor European football.
Still, billions will flow after we hopefully qualify for Russia. The Super Eagles will find sponsors, the media will experience a boost in advertising revenues, and sports analysts will get support for their work from our brands. But would we learn anything? Knowing what I know of my country, the minute most benefit from this windfall they will travel to the homes of their favourite clubs in Europe to blow a substantial part. They will pay for British visas, pay BA-Virgin-Lufthansa-etc for air tickets, pay hotel bills, hit shopping centres, and then visit the home grounds of their clubs to watch games and buy all sorts of merchandising items.
Until the next Super Eagles success, it would most likely be business as usual. It is well. So soar ever higher Super Eagles!