Nigerian football, the tech ecosystem, and missed opportunities

Tomiwo Ojo
Nigerian football, the tech ecosystem, and missed opportunities

The Nigerian tech industry has received a lot of praise for its exploits in finance, health, and even property. Yes, we are thankful for all the tech bros and sisters out there, and they are the next best thing since sliced bread, but why are they sleeping on Nigerian football?

Football and tech seem like a match made in heaven; a marriage like Bey and Hov’s and other nations have proved that this can work in a system where every participant will enjoy numerous benefits. While you may argue that Nigeria probably has bigger problems for tech to solve, you cannot minimize the impact of sports like football on its population. Ask the Oshodi ‘Area Boys’ if you disagree with me.

As it stands, the Nigerian Football leagues cannot compete with their European or American counterparts. Fans cannot even watch the Nigerian Professional Football League, the top-tier division, on our favourite sports channels. When the NPFL TV app was launched, the streaming experience was not worth the price and Nigerian football fans did not fully adopt it, so the project subsequently failed.

There are many ways that tech can influence sports, mainly to increase fans’ engagement, improve athletes’ performance, and advance sports events. The football industry is worth billions of dollars. Still, our Nigerian techies, especially the new ones, are sleeping on the opportunities, preferring to compete in areas where others have already excelled.

While we can discuss how tech can improve athletes’ performance and advance sports events at another time, I will focus on fan engagement because that is who I am, a fan. I believe that is where the most opportunities lie.

Nigerian football, the tech ecosystem, and missed opportunities
Cross-section of Kano Pillars fans at Nigerian football league game

Growing up in The City of Brown Roofs, I know that several people will pay money to get access to content from the Shooting Stars. Have you seen the fans of Kano Pillars at Sai Masu Gida on a hot NPFL afternoon? That is the opportunity I am talking about. We are passionate about football in this country. Yet, the fans are not satisfied, so this is an appeal to the tech ecosystem for a solution to help these football administrators up their game and bring fans closer to the game they love.

The NPFL season kicked off Sunday with Bendel Insurance taking on Akwa United at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo. While many people did not even know that the season opener was ongoing, I, for one, will not trust any other statistics from the match I did not collect myself other than the goals. The google overview of the game does not provide any other stats.

Ironically, you can access stats like ball possession, ball recoveries, attempted shots, passes completed, expected goals (xG), ball speed, and other not-so-important analytics from the European games. These data are taken for granted by fans of European football, but Microsoft, for instance, does not intend to end its partnership with the Spanish La Liga anytime soon,

Nigerian football, the tech ecosystem, and missed opportunities

Barcelona and Manchester United are two of the biggest football clubs in the world, with millions of fans worldwide. In 2022, Manchester United launched an NFT collection that fans can purchase, while Barcelona disclosed plans to create its cryptocurrency. The Spanish La Liga disclosed plans to use Web3 to track footballs used to score goals.

These technologies are relatively new, but they have already reached football’s biggest stage. But some football clubs back home don’t even have functional websites, so why am I upset that no mobile applications are available to download from the App store to make me feel closer to the team I love?

In other nations, sports clubs are implementing technologies such as blockchain for transparent communication and video sharing, biometrics identification, and AI-powered intelligent chatbots to keep fans engaged. Some have even employed live event holograms that use immersive technology to engage fans by allowing them to talk with their favourite sports star worldwide.

Some of the most innovative tech inventions were on display at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

These things seem like they cannot happen in Nigerian football, but Nigerians must have felt the same way about sending and receiving money from the USA within seconds some 15 years ago.

Tech made it happen.

Nigerian football has its problems outside tech

Several factors hold sports technology adoption back worldwide, and they may be even more in the case of Nigerian football. The league has had its fair share of postponement, strikes, and other issues due to a poor shaky structure and zero transparency, which can be discouraging to investors and fans.

However, the three primary reasons many techies fail to create solutions to solve sports problems are unqualified decision-makers, risk aversion and cost. But these issues persist in other industries that tech has influenced in Nigeria. Am I wrong?

Yes, government officials in charge of making decisions can funny and greedy, but that has not stopped the Fintech industry from becoming one of the biggest in Africa. The opportunities that a fruitful relationship between the tech ecosystem and the Nigerian football community will provide are enough to make all parties interested in making it work.

Risks are pertinent in all aspects of the tech industry. Still, successful models in other nations serve as pointers to the rewards that can be realized from the marriage between the tech ecosystem and the Nigerian football community. Finally, sports tech startups need significant funding to execute their projects successfully. However, the large interest from the football community will surely benefit any startups that provide solutions to some of the problems plaguing the sport.

What’s more? Techcrunch predicts that media and content-related platforms, esports and measurement platforms for data, analytics and biometrics are among investors’ top areas of interest. Other notable areas include athlete tech and performance optimization, in-venue technology, gambling and gaming, recovery health, and home fitness. This is a powerful indication of where venture capital funding focus is trending.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, but…

I will admit that some efforts have been made to improve Nigerian football and other sports with technology in the last few years. Only recently, the Federal Government reclassified sports as a business to birth the vision of the Policy in ensuring that sports play a prominent role as an instrument of national unity. The FEC similarly approved the National Sports Industry Policy, which outlines incentives for the private sector.

I expect more sports tech startups to spring up when all the details are worked out.

Paystack’s co-founder and CEO, Shola Akinlade, made waves in the Nigerian football community when he announced the establishment of Sporting Lagos. The Nigerian football club has garnered fans in the few months since its launch, and the stands are vibrant on matchdays because of the fan experience.

Nigerian football, the tech ecosystem, and missed opportunities
Fans of Sporting Lagos FC cheering on the club against Nnewi United, in March 2022

However, this is not necessarily a tech involvement. It is merely a prosperous individual with tech ties backing a football club. Akinlade told CNN that many tech-based companies are trying to find new platforms to promote their products and services. “I think for platforms like Abeg and PiggyVest supporting us, it’s also about figuring out how to use this as a platform, either for footballers or the football ecosystem,”

It remains to be seen how far the club would go to infuse tech into its fan engagement strategy.

SMEsportz -an African-owned streaming platform- partners with Vandrezzer FC and helps the Nigerian football club stream its games live. The platform understands that there is a huge demand for African football content in Asia, South America and the rest of the world and is seeking to help make this content readily available on the internet.

Fantasylig is attempting to increase interest in the Nigerian football league using gamification techniques that allow users to play a fantasy league based on the NPFL. Viksen Virtual is working on building the first-ever African-based football video game MOD and community, starting with Nigeria. Gamers can select some Nigerian clubs when they want to enjoy a game of PES, another way to increase the league’s popularity worldwide.

While these and some other tech innovations will help the league improve and develop, there are other opportunities the Nigerian football industry provides that the tech ecosystem can leverage.

There is a lamp at the end of the tunnel, but the battery is running low while we are still crawling at the beginning.

Technext Newsletter

Get the best of Africa’s daily tech to your inbox – first thing every morning.
Join the community now!

Technext Newsletter

Get the best of Africa’s daily tech to your inbox – first thing every morning.
Join the community now!