Nigeria's Super Falcons PHOTO: CAF
Some of the most valuable brands in the world today are football brands. The popular clubs readily come to mind. Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona, Arsenal, Chelsea and Bayern Munich. These clubs have brand value that runs into hundreds of millions of dollars. Beyond that, they provide compelling destination marketing platforms for their respective cities and countries. Manchester United has made Manchester the popular city it is. The same may be said of Barcelona and Madrid. These places attract millions of tourists every year based on the popularity of their football clubs. But as passionate as we are about football, we simply do not realize that it provides the solution to many of our problems as a nation. It can unite us, develop our youths, promote tourism and bring non-oil foreign exchange!
The Eagles and Falcons, after which our national teams are named, may not be birds of paradise, but they are very beautiful, amazing and have incredible characteristics. One of the renowned qualities of the Eagle is its vision, which is clearly its most developed sense.
Just like these birds, football is indeed a very beautiful sport. It is commonly referred to as ‘the beautiful game’. When it is played under the guidance of purists, it is a joy to watch. But football is much more than just a sport. It is a religion. And there is nowhere this is more so than in England where going to the stadium on Sundays is akin to our own practice of going to church. In the stadium, they sing, dance and hail their heroes with cathedral glee!
We simply love our football, sometimes to the jealousy of our wives. When it comes to our Super Eagles, football is the one thing that unites all of us. It is the strongest force of unity we can ever think of! When our Super Eagles are playing, all ethnic and religious differences are promptly cast aside and we hail our heroes with one voice. But why successive governments have failed to use football as a unifying force in this country remains a mystery to me.
Football, for me, presents the most potent platform to achieve a successful brand positioning for our country. It is obviously so! If we are disunited, football easily unites us. But rather, we have had leaders who read long empty cliché ridden speeches about unity, without a clue as to how to achieve it. Simply identify a unifying force and use it! Football is it. If we invest massively in our football, the impact will be incredible. I have looked across Africa and there is no country that has bigger potential than we have. We have produced some of the world’s best footballers despite the decades of neglect of our sports. Imagine what we can achieve if we invest massively in it! We can position Nigeria as the Giant of African Football and win the African Nations Cup at least every other tournament. The talents are there. It is simply to harness these young talents. But the mess we are in right now is what happens when leaders lack vision, and simply fail to see how we can successfully brand our nation using the most popular sport in the world.
I remember visiting Italy, one of my favorite vacation destinations, in the summer of 2006 after they had just won the World Cup. Right from the moment I stepped into the airport in Milan, I knew I was in the country of World Champions! From the airports, to the train stations, everywhere was branded! It was an ‘in your face’ assertion of who they were! Pictures of their victorious team were all over their cities. More recently, in the tiny city of Leicester whose football club are current England Champions, it was a similar story. The city has suddenly been thrown onto the world map of tourist destinations due to their fairy tale success story in the English Premier League. And of course the city was adorned with posters of their victorious Leicester City Football Club, with portraits of the members of the team all over the city. That way, a visitor to the city knows he is in the city of champions.
For me, it is one of the mysteries of the universe that these things are not obvious to my leaders in Nigeria. In 2013, our Super Eagles won the Africa Cup of Nations under the guidance of Coach Stephen Keshi, after a 19 year wait! No fanfare. No celebration. Nothing. Except of course the usual stories in the media about salaries being owed, allowances not paid, coach was not on contract, Keshi asking for too much money, blah blah blah! I took this matter up with one of our ex ministers and all he could do was throw up his hands! At a point I had a heated exchange with one of my colleagues who was of the opinion that Keshi didn’t deserve the salary he was demanding. I asked him to tell me if the legislators deserve the salaries they are getting! I don’t know of any serious country that is doing well in football where the legislators earn more than the national team coach! In the couple of years he managed the national team, Keshi made us African Champions. But since 1999, I cannot put a finger on any lasting achievement of the legislative houses.
Then the Super Falcons! So now, after bringing glory to your country, you have to run around the capital city with placards and go to the national assembly before you get paid your allowances? And then some government official comes out, (in this case the Chief of Staff at the Presidency), and in their characteristically philanthropic arrogance, promises that the allowances would be paid within the week! How shameless! These embarrassing pictures went viral and the damage this has done to our national image is simply unacceptable. It is bad enough that we don’t leverage the achievements of our sportsmen and women on the global stage to enhance our national image and perception. But to allow these type of scandal all over the internet is just heartbreaking. Sports ministers have come and gone like forever! Yet this problem remains. Why?
I will not say we should go back to the drawing board, because that is another cliché we love so much, demonstrating our love for lip service! I don’t even think there is any drawing board to go back to. Perhaps you will find in the crevices of the Sports Ministry, tons of policy documents gathering the Abuja harmattan dust every year.
Muyiwa Kayode [@muyiwa_kayode] is CEO at USP Brand Management, and Author, The Seven Dimensions of Branding