Sighs, hisses, multi-billion naira losses as Nigerians watch World Cup without Eagles

Eagles exhausted
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With the global football audience virtually glued to the ongoing 2022 World Cup in Qatar, a lot of Nigerians have had a hectic time back home, with some counting their financial losses following the absence of the Super Eagles at the showpiece, writes ANTHONY NLEBEM

A huge number of Nigerians have been left gnashing their teeth since the Qatar 2022 World Cup kicked off on Sunday November 20 in Doha without the Super Eagles.

While the colourful 30-minute opening ceremony featured international and local actors, singers and dancers, including Oscar-winning Hollywood star Morgan Freeman, K-pop sensation Jungkook of South Korean band BTS and Qatari singer Fahad Al Kubaisi thrilling 67,372 fans at the Al Bayt Stadium in Doha, as well as millions more globally on TV, Nigerians with business interests in football counted their losses.

It’s the second time – having also failed to qualify in 2006 – the Super Eagles will be absent from the global football spectacle since the country’s first appearance in 1994 in the United States.

Perennial rivals Ghana dealt the Eagles a huge blow in March after they triumphed 1-1 on aggregate on the away-goal rule in their final play-off for the World Cup to dash hopes of teeming Nigerians, who were looking forward to watching the team in action and also benefiting – financially and otherwise – from their presence at the tournament.


Media

Nigeria’s failure to qualify for the Mundial meant losses in billions of naira in TV revenue, branding and endorsements.

“I lost a lot of money as an independent producer, it’s very painful. I can’t quantify the loss financially, morally and psychologically, I don’t want to think about that,” ace sports journalist and broadcaster Godwin Enakhena told The PUNCH.

“By now, I know a lot of businesses that I would have done, there were lots of proposals that we had dropped before the qualification play-offs, but nobody has bothered to listen to them after the Eagles didn’t qualify.

“I should have had sponsorships for my radio and TV programmes, but there is none as we speak. All the proposals have been dumped somewhere, it’s really painful.”

On what could have been if the Eagles had managed to qualify, Enakhena added, “Even if we are not going to do well at the World Cup after qualification, that means we will play at least three group stage matches. And within that period, we would have made some money before the sponsors pulled out, because once Nigeria is out of the World Cup, your sponsors will say ‘stop.’”

Retired footballer turned pundit, Ifeanyi Udeze, who represented Nigeria at the 2022 World Cup, also recounts how he lost “a multi-million naira” deal after the Eagles crashed.

“I was affected,” he said. “I almost signed a very big deal with a big company, but the Eagles crashed out and the deal crashed. We had discussed and agreed personal terms and all that.

“What we were just waiting for was for Nigeria to play Ghana and qualify and the next day, I would sign the deal. But since the Eagles did not qualify, there was no way we could sign and I lost a lot of money. I think all media houses right now are also feeling the heat because of that.”

Entertainment

Even the entertainment industry wasn’t spared the huge losses in the football sector.

In an interview with The PUNCH, musician and producer, Adegbite Adeniran, popularly known as Adex Artquake, said he was “emotionally affected” after the Eagles disaster cost him a deal.

“I felt very bad. I was supposed to have a deal signed, I already did a song for the Super Eagles and we were supposed to sign a deal with some companies if they qualified for the World Cup. So, when they failed to qualify, I was emotionally affected,” Adex Artquake stated.

Viewing centres

John Okeke runs one of the biggest viewing centres on the ever busy Liasu Road in the Ikotun  Egbe axis of Lagos.

At the moment, it’s not business as usual for Okeke, following the Eagles absence from Qatar, a sharp contrast to Russia 2018, when he smiled to the bank on a daily basis while the tournament lasted.

Now, he’s left counting his losses.

“Honestly, the viewing centre business is not the way it was in 2018 when Nigeria was at the World Cup in Russia,” Okeke told our correspondent.

“I recall the Eagles game against Iceland, when Ahmed Musa scored twice to give the Eagles victory in their second group match. My viewing centre was filled up, it was like Nigeria had won the World Cup, inside the hall was packed, with plenty of fans also watching from outside. I sold lots of drinks and we made a lot of money from that match alone.

“I always had about 200 fans paying to watch the 2018 World Cup games; when the Eagles were playing, I had over 300 people. Fans paid N100 to watch each game and we showed all the games; sometimes we had about three games a day. I made close to N150, 000 daily from match tickets and drinks.

“Even when Nigeria crashed out of the tournament, Nigerians were still interested in watching the World Cup matches.

“But the Qatar World Cup is the worst since I started this business in 2016. Nigerians are not interested in the matches, we hardly get 20 fans in a hall that accommodates over 200 people.

“And with the fuel scarcity, it’s been hell running the business at this time. It’s not business as usual since Nigeria is not at the World Cup. I have lost about 70 per cent of my customers because Nigeria is not playing in Qatar.”

Relaxation spots

In Isheri, a community on the outskirts of Lagos filled with estates, viewing centres for watching football are nearly non-existent. However, Westgate Mall – the primary mall in the community – has a number of relaxation spots where football matches are shown and fans buy drinks or refreshments while enjoying the games.

The manager of one of the spots, Miss Bukola Kazeem, told our correspondent on Monday, just before Senegal’s 2-0 defeat to the Netherlands in their Group A clash, that since Nigeria was not at the World Cup, the turnout had been regrettably low.

“Actually, the turn-up has not been at the level we expected after the World Cup started. If Nigeria was at the tournament, I am very sure that there would be a change in our sales and the turnout of fans would have been far higher,” she told The PUNCH.

“As you can see now, they are about to start Senegal’s match, and there’s nobody, the number of people here is very low. Hopefully, as the competition progresses, people will come to watch the matches more.

“We even thought that since England have a lot of players in the Premier League, there would be a larger number of supporters but they were very few.”

Betting business

Afolabi Olatunji, regional coordinator, Nairabet, a sports betting firm, said Nigeria’s absence at the World Cup had a harsh impact on the sports betting business in the country.

“Nigeria’s failure to qualify for the World Cup is seriously affecting the betting business in volumes as more Nigerians would have shown interest in the business. If you compare the statistics with the previous World Cup, the rate of betting now has been reduced because Nigeria did not qualify for the World Cup.

“The number of betters have reduced drastically, and the volume of money that people used to bet has gone down too. It’s about 50 to 60 per cent reduction in terms of numbers and volumes compared to the 2018 World Cup and this is affecting the sports betting business.

“If you are to look at it from other African countries that qualified, that is different, but for the fact that Nigeria did not qualify, betting on the other countries is not that encouraging.”

Travel agencies

A travel agent, who identified himself simply as Ayo, is also ruing his luck as the tournament continues in the Middle East.

“During the 2018 edition, a lot of Nigerians travelled to Russia for the tournament because the Eagles were there. We were very busy organising visas and travel tickets for travelers and the Fan ID introduced by the Russian government made it easier to process travelling documents for Nigerians.

“But we’ve been idle since the 2022 World Cup started and have not processed any documents for Nigerians travelling to watch the World Cup. In Russia, I processed about eight travelling documents, but I have not done even one for the competition in Qatar.”

Big minus

The monumental lose also extends beyond the football, media and entertainment sectors, says Enakhena.

“Basically, we all lost in one way or the other. For Nigerians, there are lots of businesses and fan parks during the World Cup. I can imagine sponsors everywhere if the Eagles were in Qatar, people who sell water, biscuits and drinks at these fan parks make some money,” the veteran journalist added.

“Now, there is no fan park anywhere. If Nigeria is not involved, it’s always a big minus, so we all lost across board, me as an independent producer, Nigerians, sports journalists, newspaper houses, TV houses that would have gotten sponsors for their journalists to cover the World Cup.”

Supporters club

Abayomi Ogunjimi, President, Authentic Nigeria Football and Allied Sports Supporters Club, laments the money spent by his team travelling with the Eagles for the African qualifiers of the World Cup and the financial commitments they made locally and in Qatar.

He said, “We committed a lot to logistics hoping that Nigeria would qualify. We made jerseys for the supporters club, contacted people in Qatar to book accommodation and tried to plan ahead of time. We even arranged side attractions to take to Qatar to represent our country, but we had to put everything on hold. Sadly, we can’t retrieve the money we’ve committed into all of these.

• Ogunjimi (front) with other members of the supporters club

“All our efforts, which included spending our money travelling for qualifiers without getting funds from the government, have all gone down the drain. We lost millions of naira in preparation for the World Cup; we were projecting a minimum of 300 of our members in Qatar.”

Abroad

Last April, Ekene Romeo, a businessman who has lived in Qatar for nearly 12 years, said the Eagles’ failure to qualify was heartbreaking and hit him financially.

“I had placed an order for 20,000 Nigerian national team jerseys, which I knew would be in high demand. I was also making plans to host the first ever Nigerian entertainment and fashion week here in Qatar during the World Cup,” Romeo told Al Jazeera.

“The event would’ve featured some of the best Afrobeats artists, comedians and fashion designers to showcase and promote the Nigerian entertainment and fashion industries.”

However, Romeo added that due to the team’s failure to qualify, “the order for the national team jerseys was cancelled and the events were put on hold while we work out how to modify it to fit in other African countries who qualified for the tournament.”

The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, organisers of the World Cup 2022, had invited the Nigerian community in the country to submit cultural activation proposals.

But according to a statement by the Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation, the Eagles absence will have an effect on the host country to an extent.

“The prospect of some Nigerian cultural performances in some of the fan zones is exciting, but nothing beats the agony of missing the World Cup,” NIDO said.

“Nigerians are big spenders, and their absence in Qatar will have an impact not only on the host country’s commerce and trade, but also on the multiplier effect of other businesses in Nigeria, too.”

Eagles biggest losers

The 2022 World Cup is expected to attract an estimated 1.5m visitors to Qatar during the four-week showpiece.

And simply qualifying for the World Cup sees each team paid $1.5m (N665m), with exchange rate of N443.65 to a dollar as at the time of filing this report, as participation fee. But once at the tournament, sides will make much larger sums by progressing through the knockout stages.

Teams who get knocked out from the group stage are entitled to $9m, while those who reach the round of 16 get $13m.

So, if the Eagles had qualified, they would have been paid $1.5m (N665m) as participation fee plus another $2.5m (N1.1bn) as preparation fee, and were they to exit Qatar from the group stage, they would have received an extra $9m (N3.9bn), meaning qualification and group stage ouster would have fetched the three-time African champions a total of $13m (N5.7bn).

They would get more with progress into the knockout stages of the global showpiece. All the 16 teams who advance to  the Round of 16 will earn $13m (N5.7bn) each, while the quarter-finalists receive  $17m each (N7.5bn).

According to Amaju Pinnick, the immediate past Nigeria Football Federation president, the team would have received 35 per cent of the proceeds, meaning that the federation and the players did not only lost a significant amount, but also face a loss of revenue in different sectors in the future.

For a football sector that runs cap in hand to the government for funding, this isn’t cheery news at all, as the World Cup money would have gone a long way in settling debts, owed players allowances and the unending financial crisis that has forever rocked the NFF.

Ex-Eagles lament

Mutiu Adepoju, a member of the Super Eagles squads at the 1994, 1998 and 2022 World Cups, lamented the Eagles’ financial losses.

“Any cash inflow of that amount is supposed to be a good thing for Nigerian football development, but unfortunately, we are not playing at the World Cup and won’t enjoy the financial benefits,” Adepoju said.

Udeze added, “Once you qualify for the World Cup, FIFA gives $9m for the group stage.

Udeze

“It’s a pity Nigeria did not qualify and we missed such big money, it’s a lot of money. It would have gone a long way, even if it is to organise grassroots football.

“I’m very sure that the players are not happy because they missed out on the money too, the federation as well.”

Azubuike Egwuekwe, a former Eagles defender and member of the 2014 World Cup side, stated, “It’s a big disappointment that Nigeria is not at the World Cup in Qatar and thus missed out on the qualification and group stage prize money.

“During our time in the national team, we were very hungry to play and go to the World Cup, but today, almost all the players in the Eagles play in Europe, they are relaxed and the hunger for success is not there.”

Expert analysis

According to economist, Abiola Rasaq, the opportunity cost of Nigeria not playing in Qatar is far beyond the cash reward.

“It includes both the implicit and explicit costs,” Rasaq stated.

“There are social and economic benefits of participating in such a global event, including opportunities for Nigerian brands to showcase their products to the global audience, as well as an opportunity for us to showcase our local talents, some of whom may be lucky to sign transformational deals for their careers.

“There are also social engagement benefits at the local level and opportunities for strengthening diplomatic relations at the international level.

“So, it’s really sad that Nigeria missed the 2022 World Cup, but we have to remain optimistic about our team and look forward to strong prospects in the continental African Cup of Nations and future World Cups.”

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