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PERSONALITY INTERVIEW: POSITIVE IMPACT OF NEXT DIGITAL TV DEAL WILL SOON MANIFEST- SHEHU DIKKO

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Mallam Shehu Dikko  is the Current Chairman of the League Management Company LMC responsible for the management of the Nigerian Professional Football League, NPFL, the 2nd Vice President of Nigeria Football Federation, Studied Quantity Surveying,  Master  Business Administration,  he went into football administration in Nigeria in 2004, a FIFA Goal Project Manager (Nigeria), the former Secretary of Super Eagles Bonus Row and Code of Conduct, and a Member of various CAF and FIFA Working Committees in this Interview with MEMBERS OF FCT FOOTBALL UPDATE, of which Joel Ajayi of THE GLEAMER ONLINE NEWS a member.

He spoke about the progress, prospects, challenges of NPFL, Referees indemities, Sponsors, Impact of Covid-19 on the league amongst other. Excerpts.

Sincerely speaking,  I will like to Commend the LMC for its doggedeness and some little breakthrough concerns NPFL, despite the toxic football environments, so to say. It like over 3 months that a partnership deal was signed with Next Digital Television for NPFL and some others corporate bodies for NPFL’s broadcast nothing has been heard. Sir when will NPFL be on screen again?

Many thanks for the compliments. With regards to the Next Digital arrangement, I assure you all is going well  as plan, and I can understand the eargenes and may be inquiries of many football lovers,. This is because the transanction is totally unique and  has not been done before here so technically, it’s a road less travel here thus, it’s normal to get this inquiries until it’s sinks in. It’s not a traditional Arrangement we are use to.

First and foremost as we have explain severally that, this transaction is a comprehensive arrangement for the harnessing and commercialization of NPFL media and commecial properties which stand on four pillars as follows:

Investment Into the league to keep it going as a business/operational  concern and investment to set up a competent production capacity to produce the NPFL matches and events to the best possible quality.

Another pillar are (a.) distribution of the contents produced in (b) above across all media platforms like OTT, Cable and FTA both locally and internationally. (c)commercialization of the contents produce and distributed as per (d) above, exploitation and commercialization of other revenues streams available to the NPFL like elite sponsors, partners, advertising, mobile etc and thus  generate  huge resources for the league collectively.

It’s the forecast of the potential revenues to be earned all being equal from (d) above that will now be available to the JV for for distribution to the league as per agreed in the agreement etc. so from above you can see it’s a long term plan and require huge investment and we actually going back to put the sustainable foundation.

Of course , so far a lot has been achieved such as first, already part of the investment is coming into the league as agreed with the first tranche  met.

Second one is Next Tv already exploring and working on several options to set up the production capabilities as envisaged using both domestic  competence and their partners abroad.

Thirdily, already Next have developed the OTT APP and is available on PlayStore and would be on Apple soon. Already and MoU is in place with 9 mobile to offer subscribers  Special  data packages that come with the NPFL-NEXT  OTT APP.  Once the games are produced they will be available on the OTT APP and would Also be made available to other platforms on FTA and Cable . So, the NPFL games would be everywhere. Going forward an NPFL TV channel is envisage to be developed which will also be on OTT and Cable.

So, as at the time the league got suspended testing was about to start on the OTT with few games targeted for last week of March. But by and large, once we resumed the project continues as planned and we will see some games on the OTT which will be available on FTA mostly likely.

So, please just be patient as we are on a road less travel and for the long term. It’s the same of structure that was used in several leagues across the world to optimized their media and revenues which we all cherish today.

Covid-19 has dealt a huge blow to the league. What is LMC doing to get over it especially at the end of lockdown?

As per the COVID-19, we are not working in isolation, it’s a global mater and we are being guided on what like FIFA, CAF will direct and also how our domestic situation develops. We are hopeful Nigeria will Conquer this pandemic soonest and we get our lives back to normal and get the green light to resume football.

Sir, what proactive steps are the LMC taking in seeing to a successful conclusion of the league when and if it resumes or are we looking at a possible order of ‘ necessity’?

Well, just two days ago FIFA have issued a guideline to assist guide federations and leagues deal with the issues and impact of the disruption caused by the COVID-19.

Luckily my commitee in FIFA, the FiFA Football stakeholders committee was instrumental in drafting this regulations and thus am well abreast, so we will use it as benmark to take all necessary steps to ensure we conclude the league accordingly and the integrity of the competition sustained.

Already, we have so many options being evaluated and will be presented to our members, so we can take collective decision based on the realities of when we get out of this pandemic. But be assured our number one  priority is completing the league.

Then we will apraise where we are  and see what to do. But already we are working on so many options and possibilities both in dealing with the impact now and also the post COVID 19  decisions.

Do the NPFL have a sponsor? If no, who and who were responsible in raising funds for the LMC to commence the current season?

Well, I honestly believe the advertising boards around our match venues are not for decoration but meeting obligations to partners accordingly.

Please recall that, since end of 2015 season, the LMC decided to drop the title sponsorship model (by not renewing with Glo)  in favour of multi-sponsorship model (elite sponsors based on industry categorization) the idea was simply that if you sign a title Sponsor and pay say N750m annually but now locked everything means the revenue for the league stops at that.

But if you now go for elites sponsors says 8b based on on industry and earn an average of N300m from each you can now raise like N2.4b  annually. And all the brands will run with and  promote the NPFL brand. So  the elite sponsor model have more benefit both ways financially and brand wise and we adopted it  in December 2015.

The EPL also adopted the same model in 2016 dropping Barclays and decided to run with EPL and 7 elite sponsors. We can’t say they copy from us but we did it first and they doing it after us validated our decision as right direction. Many leagues are now doing the same.

So it’s in this drive  that we went on to sign NBL (STAR) in 2016 , and later sign others like OCP and 1XBET and even FIRS as partners  all in 2017.

Though the fund might not be too large but it helps sustain the league until we resolve the TV. We need TV to achieve the overall objective of getting the 8 elite sponsors at the right value. Thus even in the business plan with Next tv the 8 elites  sponsors are part of the revenue forecast.

So it’s the funds this  sponsors are chipping in with Next tv now included that is running the show. And this is what we worked with and no one has giving LMC funds from anywhere apart from this sources.

Infact, the LMC since 2016, we do have an  arrangement with our bankers and we set up guarantees (on our personal guarantees and revenue securitization) where we can draw funds to run the league pending when the sponsors pay. This has help create some cash flow stability.  Since the sponsors make payments only on agreed dates and they can default but we are confident they will always pay and so we offer our personal guarantee and some assets to support this.

Why is it that since week 22 no Referee have collected what is due them (money) from the LMC?

Yes if you see any delayed payment to any match officials, it’s because likely the sponsors has defaulted  in payment as per agreed date and we couldn’t activate the bank support in time. But we always ensure this are sorted as priority. LMC spend only what it earned.

Chairman Sir, what do you think will be the implications of this pandemic on Nigeria League and football in general in the country?

Well, honestly the pandemic is affecting the league just as it’s affecting everything’s across the globe. Sports industry generally is one  of the worst hit in this, as many things are time bound and  even the finances is structured as such.

We can see how global football leagues that we all thought are beyond shock have all been distorted, especially financially, organizationally and legally among others.

We too are on the same boat though, not to their level. For example the second tranche of investment from Next tv was due the week the league was suspended as the investors and all had to delay now including preparation for commencement of testing of the broadcast. We have overdue payables from others which we can’t get now until all is sorted.  We have seen how sponsors and broadcast partners are withhelding payments due across the world and we can’t be an exception.

But honestly we also see a silver lining at the end of the day. Once all settled everyone now has realized just like it’s now evident huge investment has to be made into our health sector it’s now evident also huge investment we have been clamoring for into football and indeed sports in Nigeria has to be made as we all now have to see how we can build everything in-house and stop relying on foreign content. So I foresee that we would come out better.

As the Chairman of the apex league in country, are you worried that the NNL has not been playing after 5 matches?

With regards the NNL. We all know that the LMC has always been concerned  as the apex league to ensure the welfare and sustainability of the leagues below the pyramid NNL inclusive.

We use to offer our support both financially and regulatory when we can, to ensure they keep working. So just before the suspension of football activities, we were all locked in serious conversation led by NFF President and hugely supported by the Minister to ensure  we got everything back on track not just for NNL but other leagues.

All will sorted accordingly and we should all appreciate the difficult terrain the leagues are operating since the environment is not really clear and too toxic to drive the private investors confidence.

Sir, paradeventure the League ends this way, would you support the promotion of teams to the NPFL with only five matches played?

Well, we haven’t got to this bridge yet, so this can’t be a consideration at this moment. We hope all will be back to normal soon and we get everything sorted as planned by completing the seasons across board.

What really transpired between LMC and DSTV?

What transpired between LMC and DSTV is a mutual decision between two parties under contact and it’s hinged on economic realities and mutual respect.

Unfortunately, it’s under an NDA arrangement and thus can’t say much. But we still maintain and have an excellent relationship with supersport and parted on mutual terms with understanding that, we will still do business in future once the economy improves .

For example people seems to forget that Super Sport came back and Concluded the coverage of the 2017 NPFL season, in 2018 worked with LMC on the Atheletico Madrid tour, in 2019 worked with LMC to cover the Super 6 tournament which decided the NPFL champions, and uptill now 9ja made is still running on super sport promoting the NPFL. So we are still cool and we will surely be working together sooner than latter as we want  to make available the NPFL content to all platforms.

What has been the major accomplishment of LMC since DSTV pulled out?

I really don’t know how to answer this question or what it seeks to know. DStv or rather TV coverage is only one part of many parts of the league as first and foremost the football has to be organize and played before TV can cover it.

Yes, TV revenue is the major income stream for any sports, league football inclusive as TV provides over 90% of revenue. So by just ensuring the league football kept being properly played despite the loss of major income stream is a huge huge achievement.

We can all see how European football has suddenly turn upside down with just a few weeks revenue distortion which is mainly  TV thus for us to sustain the  league this  far despite loss of tv revenue  is huge.

Meanwhile, we are still working round the clock to retore the TV back on a better arrangement that will optimize  both the visibility (more games on tv) and more revenues as envisaged on with the Next tv arrangement.

We first brought Fox Network Group in 2018 and unfortunately at the verge  of signing contract the toxic issues set in and we were back to square one until  we now got Next TV in 2019 to come onboard and hopefully all will take shape soonest.

Also people need to appreciate that when LMC came on board the TV revenue for the league  was mere N150m annually and the TV contract was even under dispute. It was LMC that negotiated the new deal which up the TV from mere N150m  to $8m USD per annum starting from 2015 and so, if we can do this before to Create this huge value we can certainly do it now and better.

So, let’s just all be patient. And in any case since after DSTV left, we still brought  some new partners  like OCP, 1XBET  to augment the revenue stream  and have worked with Government to set up legislation like done all over the world  (the NBC code) that will surely promote and protect not just the league football but sports generally.

We have pitched severally to Government, to see how to get the right investment to help with the development and provision of infrastructure (stadium upgrade and media production)  that will assist jumpstart the NPFL to the next level. We created the document call football means more and have presented this to the  Ecomic Management Team (EMT) under the Vice President of Nigeria  and development agencies such as CBN, Nexim Bank , Nigeria Sovereign Weath fund and Several corporate bodies  and conversation at several levels is ongoing but unfortunately all this efforts has been hampered and slowed down since the toxic issues set into our football.

But we are not relenting and surely the ice will be broken soon. Thus we are doing so so much behind the scenes to get things going and we will and the positive impact will soon start manifesting.

Can you agree that the quality of our players have dropped?(Domestic League players) because they moved to unknown destinations once they leave Nigeria, what are the factors responsible for it?

No I don’t agree. We still have a lot of quality around and it’s just how we handle  and Manage them. It’s not LMC duty to scout or sign players for the  clubs but check out what Enyimba are doing for example. Last year the league top scorer from Nasarawa Utd was an U-17 player from the youth program LMC encourage the  clubs to inbibe.

So, really issue of players going to any obscure league did not start today and has been with us ever since and it’s just about opportunity the players think they see. In fact for your information most of the players going to this obscure leagues do take a pay cut from what they are paid here in the NPFL or similar amount but they go there with the hope that it will be easier for them to cross to main Europe from there instead of direct from NPFL.

In Most cases they end up destroying their carrier. European football has also choked so its difficult unlike before. So by and large this rush to go to obscure counties has nothing to do with the league but the advise the players are giving to take this route as it’s faster to get to main Europe which times and times again has proven not to be correct.

What is the plan of the Nigeria Football Federation for women’s football and the Super Falcons, particularly on getting a new coach? Has Fifa finally paid the Women’s World Cup bonus due to Nigeria?

The NFF are indeed working on a robust strategy to see to the continuous development and improvement of women football including appointments of a substantive coach for the Super Falcons and other national teams.

Let’s just be patient. Infact the NFF President made this clear that this year, the NFF want to celebrate the Women football at the NFF Aiteo awards by Honoring  the 1999 Super Falcons team that reached  the WC quarter finals as a means of getting the women football to center stage more. Hopefully this can be achieve once all return to normal.

I really don’t know the process of the FiFA payment of the prize money fund but what I know is once FiFA pays the share promise  the team is first line charge and will be paid promptly.  Even two weeks ago FiFA were  in Nigeria working with NFF on some projects etc and I know the club benefit fund has since  been paid and giving to the club.

Sir,since the NNL is the supplier or clubs to the NPFL,in terms of structure and club licensing regulations, how does the promoted clubs from NNL impact on the apex League?

Well, it depends on the club promoted. Both most times the clubs being promoted have had NPFL experience before and so they can easily align. Relegation and Promotion is part of league football and it’s what make it thick, thus every season we have to organize special  seminar for promoted clubs so we can update them on what it’s expected of them and the processes etc. it’s has worked very well.

Why are we not having night football games again?

Once the TV starts  night football is surely top of the agenda. But we have been advising the clubs that they can still play at night if they want regardless of TV as fans attendance have shown the night football is very popular and loved by the fans. Rangers have already written to say they want to do some game at night.

Is it possible to know the content of star deal with the NPFL and it seems the deal has not been activated?

Well,  what content do you want to know on the star deal ? It’s contract between two parties and we tried to work within the terms. Yes at the start really star were doing a lot but slow down as the market take a new shape. But they still sponsors the 9ja made on super sport as part of activation but really they could do more  but they are not smiling due to the toxic issues all over really. But we have to keep pampering them as sponsors until we get all going as planned.

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Yoruba Self-Determination Rally Begins In Ibadan

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The Yoruba self-determination rally organised by the Ilana Omo Oodua is underway in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital.

Hundreds of members of the group whose leader is an 86-year-old Emeritus Professor of History, Banji Akintoye, had initially scheduled the take-off of the rally for the ancient Mapo Hall but the heavy presence of armed policemen forced them to change the venue.

They are addressing people at Mapo Roundabout but they were not disturbed by the police in any way.

The agitators are armed with banners and Yoruba nation flags while leaders of the group addressing the people are saying Yoruba people are tired of staying with Nigeria.

One of the leaders of the group, Basorun Kunle Adesokan, said Yoruba were no longer part of Nigeria and the people want to be an independent nation.

He condemned the insecurity in Yorubaland, saying the people could no longer stand the injustice in Nigeria.

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