Television, NTA and Sports – the tragedy and the lessons from Uyo!

Congratulations Super Eagles for winning last Wednesday.

An emerging mixture of old and new-look Super Eagles, a team of young players largely harvested from the wombs of European clubs, comes to Nigeria, led by their holidaying coach, to take on the Squirrels of Benin Republic in an AFCON 2019 qualifying match.  They are brought together, as usual, for only 2 days to train and play. The manager, Gernot Rohr, takes a break from his scouting assignment in Europe to mould together an ‘approximate’ team and releases them to display individual skills and ability before a vociferous home crowd on the green lush turf of the Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo.  The team wins but people are discussing NOT the match but the television coverage of it.

Meanwhile, the team prepares to move on to Lesotho two days later for another encounter in the series of group matches in the campaign for a place in the 2020 AFCON scheduled for Cameroon next year.  Although not really important but good to note, after that match that should be a routine ‘walkover’, Gernot Rohr will journey back to his Europe to continue his European safari, the smile on his face indicating his gratitude to Nigerians for gifting him the cosiest, easiest and most paying job in the world – coaching their national team. His work has been a long vacation!

I do not know of any other coach in the world that enjoys the privileges showered on Gernot Rohr – a foreign coach that spends all his working hours in Europe!  In the next 7 months or so, his contract will be up for either a renewal or an end. That decision is up to the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, that has been under siege for some time and may not want to take on the burden of another controversy after managing to survive the most difficult challenge of its tenure – an investigation by anti-crime agents. So, the NFF may likely let Gernot go peacefully.

I do not know what the German will need to do to win back most Nigerians to his side after the two huge disappointments of his showing at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and at AFCON 2019 in Egypt that will not go away.  However, this is not about Gernot or even the Super Eagles. The most enduring picture out of Uyo last Wednesday is the failure by NTA, Nigeria’s national television station, to properly bring to homes pictures reflecting the match as well as the beauty and magnificence of the most modern stadia in Africa, an edifice every Nigerian should be proud of, where the match was played and won – the Godwin Akpabio International Stadium, Uyo.

The vast majority of Nigerians all over the country that waited to watch the game on television have spent the past few days not reviewing the Eagles good performance but lamenting what turned out to be a television eyesore and nightmare.  It was very easy for everyone to turn to the national television station and heap all the blame for what happened on the poor station. But the truth is that NTA is not to blame at all.  Indeed, but for NTA, Nigerians would have had to face blank screens on their television sets on the day of the match, with the impossible circumstances created by the Confederation of African Football, CAF, with only hours to go before the match, for any decent coverage to take place.  It was an impossible task.

NTA decided that it was more important for Nigerians to see their national team, no matter how poor the pictures turned out than to stare at blank screens in their homes.  The full story of what transpired with hours to go before kick-off is an unbelievable drama that shows how not to run the business of television marketing by CAF.  In retrospect, everyone is left wondering if it would not have been better for NTA to decline the last-minute Greek gift to cover the match rather than take up the impossible challenge and end up burning their fingers as they just did.  However, underneath every darkness are hidden some of life’s best treasures. So, rather than curse it, we should bless the darkness.  Uyo was ‘darkness’ come to NTA.

Rather than dwell in lament of what happened the station has to start searching and digging for the hidden ‘treasures’ that surely lie beneath that disappointing showing, and there are many, I can already see.  Television is the key to the development of the sports industry in every advanced country. The sports industry also provides the ‘oxygen’ that fuels the rapid development and income generation and profitability of television stations also.  It is a matter of rub my back I rub yours. Television and sports must go hand in hand in a win-win situation.  Television, however, has to take the lead in the drive for this mutual growth by providing the means of promoting, covering, packaging and marketing sports. That means having the infrastructure, the equipment, the technology and the personnel to produce content that will attract viewership and big business to both! To achieve this requires a big investment.

That is what NTA should make its owner, the federal government of Nigeria, to understand. NTA can be very profitable if it can drive sports and the development of the sports industry in Nigeria. There is the economy, the market, the viewership in numbers and some level of facilities already that are not been maximally deployed even now.  Where are the 10 Outside Broadcast Vans purchased to cover the 1999 World Youth Championship in Nigeria? Those vans have been renovated and upgraded at least once since then. Those vans can do basic television coverage that may not match the 28-camera coverage of ordinary league matches in Europe presently but will come pretty close if well utilized.

Digitalisation is inevitable for the NTA very soon. That should provide an excellent opportunity for fresh investment in new and modern equipment, training of new personnel after the huge loss of very experienced staff through successive retirements over the decades without replacement, and poaching of experienced staff at the advent of private television stations. Television is very important to all of sports, but particularly football.  Television and football go together, hand in hand.

The football industry cannot develop or thrive without television driving it.  The good thing is that Nigerians are together now in insisting that what happened in Uyo should never happen again. From the criticisms, must come a new zeal and fresh ideas about the tomorrow of television and, particularly, the NTA.  The Uyo experience reveals the weak foundation upon which present Nigerian television in sports coverage is built.  New and innovative thinking must emerge from the debris of the Uyo experience in order for television, NTA and sports, led by football, to become an industry in the biggest economy, the largest market and most populated country in Africa.  Television will drive proper sports development, youth engagement and empowerment, and create massive job opportunities within the huge industry.  Television will connect the dots and the links of sports with tourism, culture, entertainment, education, health, the environment, town planning and so on and so forth.  The coverage of the Super Eagles match last Wednesday is a blessing in disguise. It has ignited a review of NTA and its relationship with sports in Nigeria. We must seize the moment to kick-start a new dawn for the essential romance between television and sports in Nigeria.

One Thought to “Television, NTA and Sports – the tragedy and the lessons from Uyo!”

  1. Fred Edoreh

    Quite well said sir.
    Global competition is driven by the media of nations and it is unacceptable that our national broadcaster cannot stand to the challenge…
    The govt must see the NTA as an anchor of nation building and, as such, a priority point of investment.
    It is not even only to benefit sports.

Comments are closed.