Nigerians shun the local league while the English Premier league and La Liga signs partnership deals with the Nigeria Premier Football League
It may come across as odd that Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) is boring to its local fans. The nation has been and continues to be one of the biggest exports of soccer players to some of the biggest leagues.
But fans think otherwise of their home league. A sufficiently great number of Nigerians find no excitement in following local football and instead, turn their attention to the English Premier League (EPL) and La Liga.
The EPL is very popular in Nigeria, attracting more viewers than the local football league. In addition, fans get to watch the likes of local favorites John Obi Mikel, Ahmed Musa, Kelechi Iheanacho, Odion Ighalo, Victor Moses, Isaac Success and Alex Iwobi (EPL) and Uche Agbo (La Liga) battle it out with the world’s best.
Could it be that the ‘addiction’ for world class football displayed by the EPL and La Liga, has created a bias towards the local league?
Research revealed that the declining interest is due to lack of enthusiasm, lack of hype in terms of officiating and broadcasting, and poor quality stadia resulting to low turn-ups. Matches that used to gather tens of thousands of spectators from across the country, now draw very few fans.
According to the latest public opinion poll released by NOIPolls, it was revealed that only 33 percent of home-based football fans maintain their interest in the NPFL to-date, out of patriotism and loyalty.
Poor infrastructure, poor coverage, predictable results, tormenting claims of match fixing and corruption have also played major roles in the league’s poor publicity.
Filled with contempt, the average Nigerian perceives the NPFL to be in a state of decay together with its ‘unserious’ organizers the League Management Company (LMC). The 2016 NPFL campaign was proof of mismanagement after the season kicked off months later without a title sponsor.
Other findings also revealed that in about 49 percent of Nigerian football fans, 72 percent of them preferred the EPL because the clubs there play good football.
A blessing in disguise
However, the growing interest in foreign football has caught the eye of the top leagues in the world. It paid off and got West Ham United to sign a partnership deal with FC Ifeanyi Ubah last month in London.
In an official statement, United confirmed the partnership saying, [perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”We are looking forward to working alongside FC Ifeanyi Ubah and building a strong legacy in Nigerian football inspired by West Ham United.” [/perfectpullquote]
But it is not only the EPL who have come knocking, the Spanish league wants in on the ‘deal’ as well. In a bid to raise the profile of Spain’s La Liga in Nigeria, they (La Liga) appointed former Eagles World Cup star Mutiu Adepoju as their ambassador. After more than a decade playing in Spain, the 45-year-old has been entrusted to raise the popularity of the league to rival with fan favorites such as the EPL.
The marketing is so big that the NPFL signed a five-year co-operation deal, along with numerous donations made by La Liga towards developing the sport in Nigeria. Catalan giants Barcelona topped it off with a soon-to-be residential academy in the nation’s commercial capital city of Lagos.
Such partnerships with top flight leagues is a chance for Nigeria to develop their home grown talent and bring the much needed attention to the local league.
La Liga organized a tour for NPFL All-Star players. The eight-day experience is one way Nigeria football could develop domestic football but it will be up to the local players and management, to ensure the opportunity is well utilized.
Adepoju in a statement urged, “We believe that with time, the clubs will sign some of the best players in the NPFL, but these players need to work harder for them to compete at a top league like La Liga. They need to work on their skills, speed, character and understanding of the tactical demands of La Liga.”
Former Eagles attacking midfielder, Mutiu Adepoju (Soccer Laduma)
On a hopeful note, fans still believe the NPFL is redeemable. Nigerians believe if current standards are improved, league managers seek better private partnership, employ better sponsorship and publicity strategies and branding is more elaborate and attractive, the NPFL can attract more home support. Other suggestions included improving officiating and most importantly, encouraging televised broadcasts of NPFL matches.
The future of Nigeria’s football stars is still in pursuit. Some less fortunate communities are using football as a means to engage young people and keep them away from crime and encourage young lifestyles.
For instance, in Ajegunle, the sport is very popular so much that the densely populated community in Lagos and home to many Brazilian football fans has produced a number of international football stars.
Ighalo and Emmanuel Amunike are influential examples bringing hope to young stars in Ajegunle and Nigeria at large and attracting big brands such as MultiChoice.
Under its Let’s Play program, SuperSport is giving young people with the support of former football stars, the opportunity to make use of their talents and follow in the footsteps of their football idols across the world.
SuperSport General Manager, Felix Awogu said, “Providing football for young people and encouraging them to play has been quite impactful because they aspire to become like the Victor Ikpebas of this world and work hard toward achieving such dreams, just like Odion Ighoalo did.”
Featured Photo: Super Eagles and Watford FC star Odion Ighalo (Paul Dawson. @poleydeepics)