After bidding for the Nigeria Premier League twice and losing out to rival, Globacom, telecommunications firm, MTN Nigeria, on Thursday, won the rights to sponsor the Nigeria Premier League for four seasons.
Details of the agreement have yet to be made public, however, MTN is said to have made a commitment to pay N2.6 billion over the next four years to the league. The deal will come as a relief to beleaguered Chairman of the league, Davidson Owumi, given that Rumson Baribote, former Chairman of Bayelsa United is contesting the legality of the NPL elections that threw up Owumi as chairman, in the courts.
The rivalry between the two telecoms companies over sponsorship of the league started as far back as 2006 when for the first time the league came up for sponsorship. MTN were initially thought to have wrapped up the deal with a sponsorship fee of N300m. That was not to be as Glo, reportedly availing itself of contacts in the Presidency, won the bid with an offer of N70 million. When the contract lapsed in 2008 under Oyuiki Obaseki, a new deal brokered by MTN for N500m failed with Globacom retaining sponsorship.
In January 2010, former league boss, Obaseki, had led his team to Globacom to re-negotiate the sponsorship. Globacom complained that having spent millions in league sponsorship, they were not getting the desired results. Therefore it was not a surprise when the 2010/11 season arrived and Globacom pulled out of the sponsorship deal. The NPL again threw its doors open for new sponsors. This time around, MTN, floored twice by Globacom, decided not to show its hands openly electing to use a front, an organisation known as Total Promotions to push its bid. Total Promotions already does business with the league, having signed a deal with the NPL over broadcast of league matches. After two days of intense negotiations, news emerged that MTN had clinched the deal ahead of its rival.
“It is a good one. It shows that there is still potential for the league if MTN can do business with the NPL,” said Emeka Nwani, Head of Media, NPL. “We are assuring Nigerians that the money will be used judiciously for the improvement of the league.” The NPL has debts of over N700 million as part of recurrent expenditure as they are yet to be paid for last season’s sponsorship. The former sponsors, Globacom, are reportedly owing N923 million for the 2009/10 season.
While Nigerians await a formal announcement of the new deal, there are indications that the last may not have been heard of the matter. Globacom is not taking the latest development lying down. An official of the organisation, who asked not to be named, said “The last has not been heard of the matter. The entire process has been less than satisfactory. We have a situation where one company put it in a bid and then another organisation, which did not formally enter the race, is said to have won the bid.” Attempts to reach Shehu Gusau, the Chairman of the bid committee, to explain to clarify whether the rules permit the use of fronts, proved unsuccessful. Equally, efforts to contact Owumi were unsuccessful as his mobile phone was switched off.