• Monday, June 24, 2024
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‘If Super Eagles qualify for the World Cup, it’s good for our business’ – Felix Awogu



 Less than two weeks to the start of the biggest sports carnival in the world, the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Felix Awogu, General Manager, SuperSport West Africa in an exclusive interview with Anthony Nlebem, Sports correspondent, BusinessDay, spoke on the readiness of SuperSport to beam the Olympic Games live, and the state of Nigerian football.


 The Rio Olympics game is just few days away from now. Nigerians will like to know the role SuperSport will play in the Rio Olympic games


In keeping with tradition, it is to deliver the best quality content. We are covering virtually everything and we have a couple of dedicated channels, which will be beaming those events live to our audience. The beautiful thing about us is that we are also going ahead with technology because of the timing, which is probably not very convenient with most people. We have the catch-up facility, which MultiChoice has provided, and customers can always catch up when they wake up in the morning especially to watch the performance of the Nigerian team. I heard the minister saying that Nigeria is expecting four gold medals. To me, that will be a great record. I have a feeling we will not come back empty handed like we did in London. Some of our wrestlers are doing brilliantly well. The lifters always have ways of springing surprises. Blessing Okagbare, I hope, will also be able to do us proud. We will be paying special focus on the football team because Nigeria is technically a football country and I hope this year’s selected team will do us proud and move ahead from the last qualification in the finals where they won silver, and probably win us gold. It has been a long time since ’96.


What are the unique attractions people should watch out for during the Olympics?


We are sending a full team who will be covering it. I know a lot of people have been wondering how we will manage with the Zika scare and it is a major constraint. Even though some athletes are pulling out, we just need to prepare ourselves, take preventive measures and go there to do a quality job. I am sure the Brazilian government would do whatever they can to safeguard participating Olympic athletes and visitors to the games, including the journalists. We have a team following the Nigerian team, especially the football and athletic teams, just like we do with some of these well-established athletes. There will be a couple of magazine shows in place for subscribers apart from the daily highlights. It will be quite innovative.


If we look critically, Nigeria does not have the athlete that is medal hopeful. Is DStv not bothered about this?


Let me tell you, a lot of people said we failed in London. I am one of those that think we didn’t fail. If you look at the team, most of our athletes finished in the semi-finals. They didn’t win medals but I see a lot of progression, what could happen is transcending from that semi-final finish into the medal zone this year. If you look at ’96, we didn’t expect any medal in football, even after losing to Togo here, in the last friendly. We still went ahead to win. We are a team- a country that likes to spring surprises. Wrestling is doing pretty well. Two of our wrestlers, the female ones, are actually in the top-three in the world so why not give them a chance? In Athletics we may have a few issues but I think we should look at relay and if I were the manager of Okagbare, I will tell her to focus on the jumps because that is the area where she has the advantage. Here, we are pushing her into athletics- 100 metres, 200 metres, relay, I hope she doesn’t burn out. Sometimes, you need to sit down, look at your structure, and look at where you have comparative advantage and stick to it.


The coverage of Euro 2016 tournament was well commended by football loving Nigerians. What did you do differently?


First of all, it is the quality of the game. The quality of the game was unique and it reminded me of what happened in the English Premier League where we had Leicester from nowhere coming up to win the league. There were a lot of upsets with teams like Iceland. It brought a lot of hope in the eyes of a lot of people. We can do it; it is a possibility. If you remember, Lars Largarback was a former coach of the Nigerian national team and he radiated with a lot of Nigerians. The new Lars Largarback, can he do it? And he did it for the Iceland team, with a country 330,000 people popularly known for its earthquake, today being remembered for its quality of football. To us, that was an amazing achievement and of course a lot of Nigerians idolise Ronaldo, I don’t know maybe because he left from EPL, they were all watching and rooting for him and a lot of their stars they can actually identify from Chelsea, Arsenal, Man U and so on. It worked well for our own overall strategy as a business. And of course, we had these beautiful shows from France, a masterclass, several in-depth analyses of the shows and exclusive interviews.  I was in Paris and I don’t think there was any channel in the world that compared with what we did in SuperSport.


Let’s go back to the Nigerian National League. With what is going on in the Northeastern part of the country, what are the challenges you face going to El-kanemi, to pick up matches in Maiduguri?


Beautiful! It is quite interesting you raised this question; I know security is improving. For the first time in four years, three major roads were opened in Maiduguri, I think sometime last week. So, things are changing. If the roads are being opened in Maiduguri, it means our OB vans will be able to drive into Maiduguri. If you look at an OB van for instance, it will probably cost you about 10m dollars to acquire a standard one with high definition compliments. Our roads are not the best in the world, but we have been all over Nigeria. We were in Kano to cover some matches and if you watch Nigerian match shows, we have highlights from Maiduguri, it is easy to fly in a camera and do it. Not that we are not there but it is not yet time to move the OB facilities and mind you, El-Kanemi warriors only resumed playing only a few months ago in Maiduguri. If peace returns, which we have been praying for, I think the first thing we will do is take ‘Let’s Play’ with my team to go and give the children some football, let them have something to identify with, let them find some solace, some joy, after many years of stress.


So far, what is your assessment of the Nigeria League’s this season?


This is the best I have seen in a long time. The league has grown; there have been more wins in the league this season than in our history. We can crosscheck that. There have been little issues of violence but not as bad as it used to be. These are little hiccups. This is the first time we have done a direct deal with the league. We have gone through 3rd parties but for the first time in the last one-year, we have decided to say, let’s work with the league directly, and it is paying off, and we are very happy, and we are going to continue to work in that direction.


Still on the league, GOtv is the shirt sponsor of Ikorodu United. Are you satisfied with their performance?


The first thing I must compliment, which also goes well with GOtv, is that there have never been issues of violence in matches involving Ikorodu United. It has been gentle, seamless and people have been enjoying the atmosphere. For us, it is not all about coming and winning. It is also about the experience. How do people come in there? How do they leave? This has been phenomenal and even if the team is not among the top four in the premiership, it has shown a clear example of how football should be run, another good example is MFM FC, which has done well. There were some little hiccups when Shooting Star Football Club came and also people referred to the officiating of that match. Of course, even if the officiating was wrong, you cannot take laws into your hands. And that has been the only incident we have had there. There has been a great improvement, a growth. Teams dress better, they look sharper on television and the TV pictures are looking clearer and nicer and it is attracting viewership. To us, what else do you expect? It can only grow and get better. Today in Africa, the Nigerian league probably ranks among the best 2.


You talked about how SuperSport has helped to grow Nigerian football but looking at the Super Eagles, we had issues with hiring a new coach and one of the issues is financing the coach. Is there a way SuperSport can come in to sponsor this, especially with the World Cup around the corner?


If the Super Eagles qualify for the World Cup, it is also good for our business. We will support. I will meet with the Federation and we will look at it. It doesn’t take a big deal to hire a foreign coach. We have Jacob de Jong, a Dutch international who is coaching Ikorodu United, so it is not a big deal. It is for you to sit back and agree on the terms. First, there is FIFA inflow for NFF, I learnt that has gone up a little, you can say a portion of that should go for the coach’s hire if you don’t have foreign exchange, FIFA helps you with that. Gianni Infantino is coming into Nigeria on Sunday. To us, it is a good thing; you can open up and say, please, FIFA needs Nigeria as much as Nigeria needs FIFA. Nigerians are the biggest spenders in most international competitions in Africa. It is a great thing to have Nigeria in any major competition. Hosts of the Nations Cup will be very sad because Nigeria is not there because thousands of Nigerians come, the hotels go higher and so on. We are the biggest economy in the continent. It will be great to see that. We are sponsors of the Super Eagles; we commit millions in the Super Eagles. We produce all the Super Eagles’ games and they need to just sit down and agree on how to disburse their finances.


It is a talking point, the hiring of a foreign coach for the Super Eagles.


Sorry, I don’t think the word foreign coach is appropriate. The hiring of a good coach for the Super Eagles, whether it is foreign or local doesn’t matter and they don’t come cheap.


You say you are going to Abuja, are you meeting with the NFF based on this?


We are partners. We do a lot of things together. Infantino is coming and we are going to be a part of that event and we also have to sit down with them. We have the broadcast rights agreement for the Eagles, how many friendlies they are going to have and all that. If there are also other issues they think they need to bring before us, why not?


We sponsor the NFF. If we pay money for your rights, it is part of your revenue to hire a coach and we will not owe. We look at bills, are we owing? If they want to use the SuperSport money to hire a coach, that is fantastic. They also have Glo as a sponsor, if they want to use that money, fantastic! They have funds from the Federal Government, if that is what they want to use, it is up to them. But really, it is in their interest to hire an appropriate coach, not necessarily a foreign coach but a competent coach. To me, that is what we should be looking at.


Let us go back to the issue of Nigeria not being a part of 2017 Nations Cup. How is this going to affect SuperSport, I mean the coverage of the game?


Well, it is not going to be exciting not just to Nigerians. In the continent, people want to see Nigeria. So, if we mismanage such an opportunity, it’s painful; it affects businesses. What I am saying is, a lot of people are losing out. It is not just the Press, a lot of deployment, a lot of advertisement or us; a lot of sponsorship opportunities are lost because people will keep their money. It is in their interest as media men, as stakeholders, to encourage the NFF to make sure we qualify for major competitions.


Can you give us the breakdown of the financial implications of Super Eagles not been a part of AFCON 2017 to SuperSport?


First of all, you have to go back and verify what is the advert spin when Super Eagles attend a major competition. I don’t have that data. That is when you can say this is what it will cost. But I know, first of all, the feel-good atmosphere of Nigerians would be affected. We would have sold more. So, it impacts negatively on the economy.


What is the way forward for Nigerian Football, as a stakeholder?


I think, first of all, there is the need to do things right. I think they are beginning to do that. We are beginning to look and respect the fact that best practices are very important if we have to move things forward. We have seen that in the league and we have seen the growth in the last one-year. No matter what you say, I must give kudos to the LMC led by Diko and Irabor, they have done a fantastic job, and they have left their books very open. The NFF is still there and then also, the Ministry of Youths and Sports, led by Suleiman Dalong, he has to also help re-engineer the sports atmosphere to make it attractive for investors to come in and feel comfortable to put their money behind some of these projects.


Anthony Nlebem