At the end of 2013 when the Nigerian Premier League season came to a close, Shooting Stars, Wikki Tourists, Abubakar Bukola Saraki FC (ABS FC) and Kwara United knew the following year was going to be spent gracing the fields of the second tier of club football in Nigeria after falling short in what was a particularly competitive year. By 2014, Wikki Tourists, Kwara United and Shooting Stars were gearing up to return to make the jump back up while ABS FC continued in the minor leagues for another two years until they earned the right to return to the grit of the country’s top league at the end of the 2016 season.

Midway through the 2017 season, ABS FC has just signed a five-year multi-million Naira partnership deal with Puma that takes its place as the biggest kit deal in Nigerian Premier League History. How exactly has the side bagged the kit deal with Puma who sponsor global brands like Rihanna, Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund. We attempt to explain how the Nigerian Premier League runs, factors that made the deal possible and why a wind of change must blow for the League to truly develop.

Ownership

In the past few years there has been an increased number of clubs making the transition from state ownership to private ownership. ABS FC was purchased by Bukola Saraki in 2011 and today stands alongside Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries FC, Ifeanyi Ubah FC and Remo Stars on the short list of NPL clubs lucky enough to avoid the slavery that is state-ownership of a Nigerian football club.

As a result of private ownership, factors like salaries and the logistical failures that tend to plague other teams across the league are non-issues for ABS FC and some of the other privately owned teams. They are therefore afforded the opportunity to pursue kit deals and recruit the necessary talent.  For instance, earlier in the year they added on a 15 players to their roster. Additionally, owners who are more profit and performance driven set targets for their teams seeing as they run them like businesses. ABS FC, for instance, is currently in the second year of a six year plan, that the team hopes will end with being crowned champions of the league and an impressive run at the CAF Champions League.

Backroom Changes

As a result of state ownership of teams in the Nigerian Premier League, many teams find themselves controlled by state bureaucrats who do not necessarily have an interest in the sport and its finer details. As a result, teams and the league continue to suffer. Individuals at the helm of affairs for many teams lack the appropriate knowledge required to run a soccer team and furthermore, the competitiveness the influx of money has brought to world football remains far from within the scope. ABS Ilorin on the other hand sent packing executives who lacked the necessary football knowledge to allow the team thrive.

The team transitioned its former general manager Mr. Alloy Chukuwuemeka to technical director and brought in retired Nigerian forward, Henry Makinwa to take charge of the dealings on the pitch. Alongside Bidemi Bamgboye, the team has restructured its dealings and continues to do so in a bid to explore new directions that would better equip the side with a backroom built for the rigor of the Nigerian Premier League.

The multi-million Naira deal between ABS Ilorin and Puma is proof that the league must gravitate from state ownership to private ownership because without such a change in the mantle of leadership in Nigerian club football, teams will fail to grow beyond the levels they currently stand at. Issues pertaining to financial trouble will continue to plague the league. Payments of salaries will be defaulted on and expansion of modes which could create more revenue like merchandising will remain untapped.

Featured Image courtesy of Vanguard.