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TWOREPORT'S contributors - Staff Reporter


Can Glo Take Endorsements to a New Level by Creating NPFL Stars?

By Kenneth Ezaga

For any sport to ensnare fans and thrive it needs real stars - sportsmen who live the type of lives mere mortals aspire to. This usually means sportsmen with nice cars, beautiful homes and oftentimes equally famous dates or spouses.

Fans generally see these top athletes as super beings, and consequently, follow their every action on and off the pitch in search of inspiration for their own lives. What the smarter marketing professionals around the world then do to win audiences for their sport is to ‘deliberately’ create stars because when you have stars the rest basically follows.

I have in my past writings on this column given examples of stars that have transformed their sport. Mohammed Ali did more to promote boxing than any other man or woman the sport has ever known. Remembered as much for his sleek boxing as his way with words, Ali was sought by all: fans, media, sponsors, you name it, and as people followed him they invariably followed the sport. Michael Jordan is another example. Not only did he transform basketball worldwide, he virtually took the Nike brand into the stratosphere.

Footballers like Pele, Maradona, Zinedine Zidane, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, George Weah, Didier Drogba have done incredible things in the promotion of the sport. If Barcelona were to play today without Messi in the game, it hardly feels the same, especially when it is a crucial match.

I was not much of a golf fan until Tiger Woods got into the sport in the ‘90s and sorry I have not been much of a fan since Woods’ recent struggles began. I do not think I am alone in that, because whenever Tiger played in his prime, the crowds and TV ratings swelled. I also was not a Formula one fan until 2007 when British racer Lewis Hamilton made his debut. Closer home, I especially remember the impact the introduction of Etim Esin had on the local game.

The bottom-line is that we all follow the stars - fans, brands, clubs, media, makes no difference. Football is not just a game of 22 generic men chasing a ball around the pitch for 90 minutes; it is, or should be, an entertainment spectacle with a stellar cast of stars.

I will admit that creating stars is not all down to the cash. Stars must have skill levels way above the average. They must also have personalities that audiences warm up to or simply find intriguing, and the more they stay out of trouble the better. However, good wages are essential to the dream lives that enchant audiences. No matter how talented a player is or how good natured, without the trappings of comfortable living, he is unlikely ever going to be the role model to stoke the aspirations of fans.

Here is where the Nigerian game has a massive challenge. The Nigerian Professional Football League lacks real stars; standout players that not only make us want to watch the next oriental derby between Enyimba FC and Enugu Rangers International, but who make us long to follow their lives off the pitch, i.e., to know who they are dating, who their spouses are, what designer clothes they are wearing, or how beautiful their homes are.

What I think the marketing minds at the League Management Company should do is to come up with a plan to deliberately create stars. I do not envy them, because we live in times when most custodians of Nigerian brands are too dim to see the value in the success of the NPFL. Today these Nigerian brands – in their focus on short-term gains – are more interested in promoting the European leagues and stars. It is amazing that our marketing managers and business owners cannot see how promoting the European game leads to lost jobs and wealth in Nigeria, while conversely strengthening their international competitors who benefit from the wealth we ultimately help create in Europe.

However I think the LMC and Glo can work together to create stars via the endorsements of some of the league best assets. I think this would be a win-win arrangement for both parties because, the telecoms giants are: 1. The league’s title sponsors, 2. Consistent backers of the local game, 3. An organization with a solid endorsement culture in their marketing communications.

I think Glo would be a soft target and what the LMC needs to do is show the value in this tack. It may not require the company spending more money, but rather it would mean getting a share of the brand’s endorsement budget. Having had a marketing communications background, I know this is not as easy as it sounds, but I believe there is some potential if articulated properly.

There could be a snag however if the LMC does not see this as their responsibility. That I believe would be a misjudgment because to achieve their goals the LMC must go out of its way to work with its sponsors in a way that offers them creative ways of getting the most value from every naira spent. The NPFL is a product of the LMC and the more exciting the product becomes, the more sponsors will be attracted.

Some may say NPFL stars do not command the following or appeal of movie or music stars, but I wonder how many of those existing endorsements translate to bottom-line improvements in mostly saturated market categories. So for me, most of these endorsements are rooted in commendable sentiments about the support of local stars.

To be honest I am not sure about the effectiveness of endorsements. Nigerians hardly drool over stars to the extent that they influence buying decisions. But it is popular in marketing so there must be something to it though, having also played in the industry, I can easily say there is a lot of me-too involved in strategy decisions. One brand does it and everyone follows. Fortunately Glo virtually pioneered this tack and I believe they can take it a notch higher. Beyond refreshing their approach, the brand also stands to reap good returns as football can offer interactive value that should directly affect sales.

Today the endorsement of music and movie stars as well as comedians is commonplace in Nigeria. Brands in the same markets have been known to chase the same faces, and it has all become pretty much a red ocean. But I think there is a different angle that would fit the league sponsors like a glove. Identify and promote the top football talents. It is an area that few can match Glo in.

If the LMC builds in an interactive angle to this, it should translate to more buyers adopting the sponsoring brand. As bad as fan turnouts may be, tens of thousands on aggregate still get to watch the NPFL games weekly. Let us for instance ask that these fans get involved in the nomination and selection process of those to be endorsed through their phones, which could translate to decent business. This can turn into a campaign that engages lots of new fans for the Nigerian game. It would also mean the best NPFL talents can get extra income and consequently not be too desperate to dump the local clubs, except when a truly compelling offer comes along.

It would be even better for the league, players and sponsors, given the way the system works, if such endorsements are not completely cash based. Beneficiaries could be mandated to buy brand new cars, holiday at choice places in Nigeria, turned over to popular designers for makeovers and probably quartered in more upscale environments for the period of their contracts. Every step of the way these stars will be interacting with society. The media – new media especially - would go after them, and a buzz will build.

Nigerian fans may prefer international stars, but there is nothing like that boy in your neighbourhood whose life has just been transformed. While this will not solve all of the league’s problems, it would help raise its profile, while the endorsing brand(s) can see a clear return on investment. Everyone wins.

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