Sports as Business: If the foundations be destroyed

Sports as Business: If the foundations be destroyed

The declaration of the Nigerian government through the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development on a recategorisation of Sports as a Business component to the economy was received with happiness and ambiguous hope in grinded proportions by sports stakeholders in the country.

In fairness, the Sports Minister, Sunday Dare has set this as one of his focal objectives since he was named as the helmsman of the Ministry in August, 2019. But while Dare can neither be faulted in his eloquence nor presentations, the substance of many a declaration by the veteran journalist has always required only a second look before the unmasking of some designful omissions which would always serve as inhibition to serious projections.

Never had it confronted Sports lovers in Nigeria than now that the industry capable of injecting billions of naira into the Nigerian economy is seen as second class by the government which had to a large extent taken hold of all circles in sports development and administration in the country.

In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, the Nigerian government began a phase by phase reopening of the country and its economy since June. However, close to four months since the start of that exercise, the most prominent Sport in the country, Football is still under lock and key by the same government hoping to make Sports a business.

With the continued campaign on this project in the media, one continues to wonder why a fundamental part of the business composition is not being emphasised nor worked upon; the foundational structure upon which the whole building of ‘Sports as Business’ will lean on.
Without mincing words, it is vivid enough for all to see that the ownership structure of football, nay sporting teams in the country is entirely faulty and with that, no seriousness can come out of from such a system ceremented in opaqueness and a compelling lack of will.
It is worthy of note that the Minister has since added the Club Licensing control into his vocals in recent weeks; a rather convenient procedure that asks for professionalism among football clubs in the country but why are we shying away from the real question? Why is the Minister not seen to talk about the foundational cankerworm which is government’s ownership of sporting teams in the country?

In 2020, eighteen of the twenty Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) clubs are 100% owned by state governments, six years after the League Management Company (LMC) brought out an economic plan that could change the game for football in the country. That plan included that of the governments divesting 50% of its ownership to the private sector.
The Sports Minister Dare, has been a huge crusader of the Public Private Partnership (PPP), a phenomenon, kudos to him, that has yielded some initial dividends through the renovation of the National Stadiums in Abuja and Lagos as well as the ‘Adopt-An-Athlete’ campaign ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
There is then no better time for the Minister to drum up that module via the Federal Government to the State governments and then ensure he thoroughly sees it through; he has just around two years to lay this foundation, the only way which the ‘Sports as Business’ campaign will not turn to a political campaign where all sorts are said just to impress a clapping audience.

RELATED: LMC insists govts must divest from clubs 

It is often believed among the Nigerian sporting populace that if the Nigerian Professional Football League can get it right, it would be easier for other leagues and then other sports to fall in place, because there lies a chunk of government’s recurrent expenditure on Sports in this country. 
Unfortunately, despite pumping millions into these clubs monthly, the clubs are far from being business-like in their running. The reason is simple: Government ownership means that club officials are usually politicians or civil servants appointed by the government. Few possess the administrative or entrepreneurial skills required to run a modern football business.

Meanwhile, major sources of income (like gate receipts or merchandising) are either ignored or shrouded in secrecy. Player transfers are carried out behind closed doors; officials often refuse to declare the transfer fees paid to or received from other clubs.
Gate receipts (although small in most venues anyways) are never made public, regardless of how big or small the attendance. On the rare occasions when clubs secure sponsorship deals, the figures are hardly released. Yet, the government does not care about what comes back into its coffers from a sector it has heavily funded.

The civil service structure of our sports teams is a prefabricated antagonist to any business approach in the sporting sector. A structure where the government sees sports as a social palliative and not as a business. A structure where administrators are transferred from just any other sector to the sports sector without recourse to the sports business knowledge of the administrators.
This, certainly, is not a call for our governments to hands-off Sports but rather to start a systemic change of approach by divesting their control and ownership. Invest first in the business before asking for what it brings into the GDP or the economy at large. For instance, a proper investment in infrastructure by the government cannot be overemphasised. 
Mr Dare was quoted as saying in the National Economic Summit Group (NESG) pre-event on Thursday that the new outlook of Nigeria’s sports industry will enable eligibility for incentives, development of metrics for impact measurement, consideration for special funding by the CBN, job creation and tax rebate.

The outlook is undoubtedly captivating and in all sense very encouraging. Every stakeholder in the sporting sector must work towards ensuring the success of Sports as Business as it is capable of turning our energies into incomes and knowledge into treasures.
At this point and with the Minister’s Action Plan now well known to all, it is expedient that we focus on the foundations with which we are aspiring to build this all encompassing estate “Sports as Business” on. Getting the governments to release their stranglehold on Sports will not be an easy venture, as we have found out in the past six years.
That is why it is believed that the Minister through the Federal Government can drive this objective which is too critical to their project to be ignored. Starting from ownership of clubs will not be a bad idea because many of the states that own football clubs also own basketball clubs, the next most popular team sport in the country.
One of the few directly unanswered questions in the Holy book is: “If the foundations be destroyed, what will the righteous do?” The foundations must be properly laid for this (Sports as Business) not to turn to another political mirage.

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