The best thing that probably happened to the Nigerian film and entertainment industries was that sports broadcaster Supersport lost the English Premier League TV rights for Nigeria to HITV between 2007 and 2010. Back then, my wife worked for the agency that handled the Multichoice advertising account, and she told an intriguing story of fury, the rolling of heads, and a brilliant marketing response. After soaking up the disappointment, the networkâ€™s bosses decided that the best way forward was to focus on investing in local content. What followed next were successes like Big Brother Nigeria, Nigerian movie channels, Nigerian comedy, etc.
They also invested in sport, ploughing money into our football and basketball leagues. Unlike the impressive successes recorded elsewhere however, sport struggled. Eventually they got the EPL rights back, but the bidding war between them and HITV had opened the eyes of the EPL managers to the revenue potential of their content in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa. What had been seen as the poorest region in the world and allowed to pay only a pittance for the rights, suddenly promised so much more. A sharp spike in rights fees followed, and we have all been paying a steep price since.
According to figures published by the UK Daily Mail on May 20 this year, for the 2016-2019 window, Supersport now pays a whopping GBP84m for sub-Saharan Africa annually â€“ over six times the 13m Chinese broadcaster SSMG pays for the same rights, despite China being the worldâ€™s second largest economy, and having a larger population than the entire Africa. The report also claimed that for the 2019-2022 window, Supersport has agreed a new deal to pay 168m â€“ double the current amount, at a time NBC will be paying 128m for the North American rights!
Experts believe TV networks need strong sport channels to succeed, but it is hard to see how paying over-the-top fees for the EPL can be sustainable in a poor country like ours. It may have worked in the past but times have changed. I may not be competent to tell Supersport how to run its business, but in business they say the strategy that made you succeed yesterday could be the exact one that kills you today. For one, it is clear the network is also feeling the pressure of the harsh economic times Nigerians are currently enduring.
When I got a call from them recently offering to give me free subscription in January if I renewed my subscription before November 20, I knew for sure some smart marketing mind was at work to bolster the numbers. With the current federal government blocking the loopholes that inspired corrupt enrichment and false spending in the recent past, Nigerians are struggling to pay more critical bills than TV subscriptions. More people are also now going out of home to public places to watch games, both as a result of cost watching, and new TV sport viewing culture. So I wonder how Supersport intends to recoup its investment in the EPL from 2019 especially when you consider that Nigeria probably accounts for half of its revenue projections.
That would mean Nigerians now pay about N18b yearly to watch the EPL, while by 2019 that figure may rise to about N36b. And that is without profit calculations. Madness! Give N10b to the right people and they will generate gripping domestic sport content that can feed a full Nigerian sports channel. The EPL option is great in the now, but it is only going to make matters worse over time as it continues to suck scarce resources from Nigeria to create more jobs and higher pay in Britain.
Nigerians need the jobs here to be able to pay their subscription bills, and a successful sport industry can create tens of thousands of jobs. Yes, past experiences may be a concern, but the fact is there has hardly been any domestic sporting event packaged with 21st century realities in mind. My suggestion would be for the network to do more to find the right local partners or entrepreneurs and transform Nigerian sports. Entrepreneurs who understand the massive role sport plays in our wired world; who know sport is big business; who appreciate the fact that the real celebrities in sport are the champions and not themselves or the politicians; who are clear that it takes popular athletes to pull in massive audiences and high revenues; and who should understand that Supersport deserves not just financial returns, but societal goodwill as an excellent corporate citizen.
Can domestic sport enchant Nigerians or is it a hopeless cause? Without a doubt Iâ€™d say the former, if the packaging is done right. Would Nigerians want to see extremely well paid sprinters race in 100m, 200m, and 400m races? Would the photo finishes in swimming get people on the edges of the seats? Would they be interested in watching athletes with similar star power to entertainers like Davido, Wizkid, Basketmouth, Bovi, slug it out in the semi-finals of a tennis tournament? A big yes I say.
We have been here before. At the turn of the century local music was a no-no at cool Nigerian parties for almost the same reasons people dismiss domestic sport now. But today if Nigerian music is not played 80-90% of the time, even in the elite circles, the party wonâ€™t rock. I am one of a few who think the local sport industry is nearing the tipping point and just needs a little push. When this happens, as it surely will, the EPL would only be worth as much as foreign music is to Nigerians today.