The Chairman of the League Management Company, managers of the Glo Premier League, Shehu Dikko, tells Completesportsnigeria.com’s BABATUNDE KOIKI about the Nigerian league’s path to success and how even more can be achieved…
A lot of people talk about the Nigerian Premier League this season as the best in two decades. Your name is being mentioned prominently regarding the success. How does it make you feel?
It makes me feel real good. When you’re doing things whole-heartedly and trying to apply what you think is right and you’re seeing the result, it is always motivation. All this talk, compliments and what have you, it’s a challenge to us and it means we have to keep doing more. It means tomorrow if you don’t do the right things, everybody praising you today has a right to also criticise you, which is a fact. It is not all about Dikko but about a group of people who are working together. It is about the collective directives from the directors of the LMC to the clubs, the players, to the media and all stakeholders involved in the league and of course the NFF which we are all part of. So it is a collective thing we are doing and the best thing we’ve done is to get everybody to buy into our vision, our thinking and to try to change the collective thoughts from the old order to try something new. Little by little we are seeing the results and it is fine.
A lot of people didn’t believe that the concept of an LMC and a corporate company managing the affairs of the league would ever work in Nigeria. You seem to be pulling it off. This is not a new concept isn’t it?
It is not a new concept and it is the same concept they have in the English Premier League – that is the biggest league we all watch. The LMC is structured and managed and operated exactly the same way the EPL is being run. We only work with the clubs to domesticate certain things here and not what they do there. For example, if you go to the EPL the board of directors is only two persons, but here it is not possible because you need to have people involved because every interest group has to be taken care of. Yes, the EPL too when they started there were so many directors and members but as they were going on they were fixing things and everything seems to be going in cruise control and no need to get too many people involved. And the emphasis is going back to the clubs. You’re more famous in England, you’re more respected running the clubs than the league and that’s the direction we are going. The more the clubs are organised, the more they’re becoming a brand that runs the show, the more people really want to associate with the clubs instead of the league and that’s the future we are looking at and therefore we are fine. We are working on a global trend and it’s working for us because if it works for them why not for us here? The building blocks are already in place which makes it very easy to run the league the way it works now. There is need to be creative and apply the rules and regulations that are already in place and in that case, everything will be fine.
The English Premier League recently signed a £5 billion TV contract. Three years ago they paid £2.5 billion in taxes to the United Kingdom government. I’m sure that kind of figure is mind-boggling. How challenging will it be for you to get the Nigerian Premier League to an appreciable commercial level?
It doesn’t bother us, it just gave us an indication that it can be done. If anybody is a student of history, what did the EPL start the TV rights with? It was about £14 million or £18 million I think. And at that time it was a global trend, everybody was crazy about it, everybody was hyping it and now it has grown over time because they remain consistent in the development part. Nobody tried to derail it, nobody tried to say let’s try this, let’s try that – they keep being consistent and now they are reaping the fruits. And of course you know they didn’t just start that way. The government gave them a huge helping hand by putting the infrastructure in place. They didn’t give them money, but helped upgrade the stadia, put the right television and other media equipment in place to get the league going and that was the platform they needed to develop.
That’s exactly what we are trying to tell our goverment and stakeholders here: that the LMC, the NPFL don’t need to get any grant from anybody to do what we have to do. You want to put the right infrastructure on the ground. If I have TV equipment that covers all my matches hundred per cent on the ground, it means I’m going to charge my broadcast sponsors bilions and billions of naira for that. But now I cannot do that because the broadcast sponsors also have to expend huge resources covering games. What people don’t know is that it costs between N6m to N10m, at times N14m to cover one game in the NPFL. Now if somebody would come and invest – which normaly is the government, who will do the stadia, to have the TV equipment in place and it would only be to put the personnel there to cover the game, all that money the broadcast sponsors spend to cover the game they will now have to pay back as legal rights fees.
Nonetheless we are not scared or deterred in what we are doing because we’ll get there. We know it is the TV that drives the revenue for any league and we are working towards that because the money is available. Nigerian companies spend over N140 billion to N200 billion annually on marketing communications budget. So the money is out there if we put the right infrastructure in place we know we can access that money back to the league. So we have our calculations and we know the end and the starting points, it’s just to put the building blocks to get there – and we are getting there.
Regardless of that, we are still happy with what we have been able to do. At least we are running independent of any support from any government. We’re able to pay clubs some decent money, we’re able to pay our obligations by managing the money we have – even this year the money we are paying clubs is record for us but we’re not making noise about it. We want to reach a point where we can generate enough revenue to give clubs money to pay for their entire operations before we start making noise that we’re doing well. I’m happy that sponsors are now going to the clubs which is an indication that we are on the right track and we will get there Insha Allah.
Inadequate players’ welfare has been a major issue in Nigerian football. How is the LMC hoping to tackle this in order to bring it to the barest minimum or eradicate it completely?
Like I’ve said earlier, the more money we get on board, the more we can tackle the issue. Our target is to be able to provide the operational cost for the clubs – by that I mean the salaries of the players, the transportation expenses to matches etc – and once we are able to do that, clubs will have no reason to default in paying their players and that’s the first step. We have the legal provisions to be able to deal with this but there is always a way around it. First, we we can deduct points from clubs. Second the rules provide that you cannot register for the next season until all the players at the club have signed up that they’ve been paid. Above all, we can’t deal with this in isolation as we also have to look at the position of the clubs as most of them are government-owned. Private clubs rarely owe their players even though they don’t pay their players much compared to government clubs that pay huge amounts as salaries to players and because the government has other civil servants to pay, that’s why government-owned clubs sometimes owe their players. But it must be said that not every club is owing because some government-owned clubs pay their players’ salaries regularly, and as and when due. They must be commended. Out of the 20 Premier League clubs, only about five or six clubs are owing and if you have about 15 clubs on the right track, that’s not too bad. We want the clubs to convince their governors to transfer players’ salaries into government house overhead. They should not even put it under salaries and that is the smart way to do it because overhead must be paid every month. Whether salaries are paid or not, overhead has to be paid throughout government and once the government house is paid the players will get paid. So that one is sorted pending the long-term solution of getting sponsors or getting the clubs out of the government is done, and if that is done we’ll be happy to run with that. And that’s part of the reason why we want to meet with the Governors’ Forum – we have already fixed a meeting regarding that – we want to make a presentation to them that if they want to run the clubs they need to do it well because it doesn’t cost much to do it. Most of the money state governments spend is not up to what they should give these clubs to run properly. Some governors are already doing it and if we can get all the other governors to buy into our thinking, the problem will be mostly solved.
Finally, what legacy will you – Shehu Dikko – want to be remembered for after you must have left the LMC?
It is not all about Shehu Dikko I keep saying but about Dikko and his team. We would like to be credited with setting the stage and the platform for getting the Nigerian Professional Football League to be properly organised to compete not just in Africa but globally. To have our clubs doing what they have to do privately, to have investors coming in to put in big money into our football, to see transfers in millions happening in the league and to see a proper league that will change the tide of Nigerians going crazy about other leagues and instead coming back to appreciate our own league more. We want a true and proper professional league in Nigeria with everything professionally done and to be amongst the very best in the world. That’s our dream.