Harnessing sports, Nigeria’s untapped goldmine for economic development

By Njoku Israel, Okoye Chinekwu Paul & Ubong Paul

The lingering economic crisis that has plagued the country has created an impelling need for the diversification of the economy. Commentators have not ceased to blame the present disaster that is rocking the nation’s economy on excessive reliance on oil revenue when there are other critical sectors that could be tapped into.

Diversification of the economy for Nigeria has always meant a refocus on the manufacturing sector, a revitalization of the agricultural sector as well as the revamping of other industries viewed as core drivers of an economy.

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A less talked about, but equally important potential driver of the economy is the sport industry, which unfortunately has been overlooked by developing African nations particularly Nigeria.

The lack of faith in the ability of industries outside of the supposed mainstream drivers of the economy- manufacturing and agriculture was shattered when contributions from the nation’s film industry, Nollywood saw Nigeria briefly overtake South Africa as the largest economy in Africa.

According to a statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics, (NBS) in 2014, Motion pictures, sound recording and music production are collectively worth billions of Naira, and constitute 1.4% of Nigeria’s GDP or $7.2bn of the country’s economy. With an estimated 1million people directly or indirectly working in the industry, the making, distributing and screening of moving pictures was pronounced Nigeria’s second-biggest source of employment after agriculture.

It can however be argued that sports potentially have more to offer Nigeria economically than the Nollywood industry does. The importance of sports to an economy is huge as can be seen from the success of the sector in both Europe and America and even more recently in some parts of Asia.

The stupendous transfer of Neymar junior from Barcelona to PSG for instance, poked the immense value of the sports industry to the whole world, especially Nigeria. We simply couldn’t wrap our hands around the fact that a club was willing to spend around 200 million pounds on a player.

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Many thought PSG had wasted a lot of money, but the fact was that the club was sure of recording back most of that money back in no distant time. Neymar, without doubt, is a superstar with a great brand value.

Within weeks of his transfer, Paris merchandise shops were filled up with people buying his jersey. Sales from that, and other merchandise, coupled with a few months match day revenue was enough to recoup the transfer money. It will be recalled that PSG sold a staggering 10,000 units of Neymar branded shirts in one day.

Neymar himself has already attracted over 20 global brand partners. Depending on the image rights deal he agrees with his new club, they are likely to acquire set percentage of his rights over set territories. Brands across Europe, South and North America and the Far East are now watching PSG and their marketing reach to assess how much a sponsorship deal may be worth, providing them with in-direct association with Neymar via his employers.

The sports industry in Europe is a very huge one, with a report on sportsjob.com indicating that sport related employment represents 2.12 % of the total employment in Europe, which are round about 4.5 million sports job employees. The largest number of sports jobs can be found in Germany, with over 1.15 million positions (nearly 27% of all European sport jobs!). The runner-up is the UK with more than 610,000 followed by France with more than 400,000 sport jobs.

The European Commission also states that the sport sector has proven to be especially resilient during economy crisis, which makes it even more important for the European economy and attractive to job seekers.

In 2015, The English league signed a broadcasting deal worth £5.14bn over three seasons with Skysports and BTsports. The deal meant that that even the bottom club in the Premier League would receive around £99m while the champions would get £156m.

The leagues also boast of filled stadium every week, guaranteeing huge revenue from clubs who spot talented and popular players whose merchandise also guarantee revenue. The high profitability of these clubs translate to attractive wages for both players and other employees or affiliates of the club such as board members, psychologists, coaches and trainers, scouts, merchandise offices and others, which leads to a higher standard of living for those involved.

The fact remains that the sports industry in Europe does not only entertain Europeans, but also engage in heavy business transactions that have a positive ripple effect on the overall economy.

Compared with the super structure in Europe or America, the Nigerian sports industry is in shambles. Football is the most developed in the country but our league cannot be compared to England’s second division. Only a handful of clubs have dedicated fan bases and our stadiums are barely occupied during matches.

Our teams are not popular and influential for anyone to buy merchandise and it lacks enough talents as best players in the country find their ways abroad. Other sports are non-existent or better still, insufficiently developed.

Nigeria is a sports loving country and the culture of football is deeply planted in the streets. The development of these sports should be considered as an avenue for solving our nagging unemployment issues.

According to a 2013 research carried out in England by the department of culture, media and sport (DCMS), the economic impact of sport in terms of Gross Domestic Product, (GDP) and employment is substantial. However, these measures only capture part of its economic value. For those who participate in sports there are health and well being impacts, while those who watch sport can derive beneficial psychological effects.

The improved educational attainment of those that participate in sport can increase students’ motivation, improve their social relations with peers and persons in authority and can impact positively on self discipline, time management and self esteem.

Participation in sport can contribute towards the reduction and even total extermination of anti social behavior which are usually perpetrated by the youth due to lack of jobs.

Sports and its related projects can be used to stimulate the regeneration and development of communities. This can be as a result of a major commercial sports project or more local community sporting activities.

A way to do this is by providing the necessary infrastructure and organizing a system where talents can be effectively identified in primary and secondary schools, groomed through sporting academies and integrated into sufficiently developed teams who are part of a well-funded league. Programs that would bring sports back to the schools. The colonial masters brought with them the culture of sports to primary and secondary schools it will be recalled.

This saw an emphasis in the establishment of sporting facilities that have been allowed to decay. The famous inter-house sport is no more what it used to be.

There is the need to re-emphasize sports into our curricular. There is also the need to set up the necessary structures for further developments of young talents. There is the need also to encourage the setting up of academies or sports training facilities for these young talents.

Our local league which is known as The Nigerian professional football league (NPFL) should be looked into with keen interest by the government as well as private stakeholders.

The league needs a total revamp. We should be able to borrow a leaf from the aforementioned leagues in other countries where things go well. Players and coaches should be paid their salaries as and at when due. Hooliganism, bribery and corruption and nepotism should all be checked through various policies. The basis for selection of players at all levels should be meritocracy and not mediocrity.  This in turn will ensure that our best talents stay behind to play here in Nigeria and also attract the attention it needs to boost revenue.

We must endeavor to develop fully as much variety of sport as we can and start early to infuse the culture of these sports on the populace. It is only a matter of time before they get popular and profitable. And when that happens they will become self-sufficient industries capable of sustainably employing thousands of Nigerian youths who would have otherwise been prone to the temptations of vices caused as a result of unemployment.

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