Dr. Onyekachi Onubogu is the Chairman of the Board of the Higher Institutions Football League (HiFL). With more than 20 years of experience in marketing and business management in different industries ranging from sports to communication and technology, Onubogu has spent much of his career building brands with a solid experience in the sector. sports in Nigeria. In this interview with FEMI ADEKOYA, Onubogu called on investors to seize the opportunities offered by HiFL to grow their brands while contributing to the country’s GDP.
Based on your experience in various sectors in Nigeria, what is your view on investing in the country before/after Covid-19?
Investment slowed towards the onset of COVID-19 but gradually opened up after Covid, especially in African regions due to challenges in large parts of Europe, America, Latin America and Russia. There has been a lot of investment in the telecommunications, arts and entertainment industries in Africa over the past couple of years. Many brands realize that as important as growing your brand is, growing the industry and economy where your brand exists is essential to staying relevant. We’ve seen companies invest significantly in properties like Big Brother, the Premier League, film and music development platforms, and more. Current and future partnerships and collaboration will be an integral part of marketing investments for brands.
Effective post-covid collaborations have been and will continue to be the bridge between building brands and impacting social investment in any economy.
For more than three years, you have directed the affairs of the Higher Institutions Football League (HiFL) as Chairman of the Board. What is your assessment of the support received from the Nigerian business community regarding brand collaborations and partnerships?
The Higher Institutions Football League was born out of a great desire to positively engage Nigerian youth by identifying, nurturing and developing football talent across the country, which aims to position Nigeria as a global college football power while by empowering and showcasing local talent. The league is unarguably the largest private collegiate sport platform in Africa and potentially the largest property to engage young people directly on the continent.
We have been supported for four years by brands such as Stanbic IBTC, Nivea men, Minimie, Indomie, Bold and many other brands. However, with the scale of the challenges and the scale of the opportunities of HiFL, many companies have realized that it is one of the greatest platforms to engage the future of Nigeria. We have over 60-70% Nigerians as youths. Therefore, a platform like HiFL can help train, enlighten and develop future leaders.
No property brings together 2 to 3 million people a year. HiFL is a small community with a large ecosystem. Brands gearing up to stay relevant in the future should seek and cling to investing in brands like HiFL with the ability to bring together a group of young Nigerians who will be making buying decisions in the near future.
What is the attraction for investors in specific terms, numbers and value at the HiFL Investor Forum held recently?
I’ll start with brand reach. HiFL offers a reach of over 2-3 million students who will become major decision makers as mothers, fathers and caregivers in a few years. More than 600 to 800 students who leave different schools each year join the workforce of the economy. HiFL is like a funnel that constantly refreshes. In schools, young people are part of the league and when they graduate, they become alumni. Hence, from these stats, the league has massive reach for market share potential for any brand in Nigeria with huge opportunities in terms of media, branding, merchandising and exposure. HiFL is a brand that will pay off for any business in the short, medium and long term.
What is the ideal investment figure for HiFL to remain relevant over the next five years?
There is no ideal number. Any investment that wants to remain relevant must constantly rejuvenate itself and look for more strategic ways of doing things. For more details, HiFL will need around $10 million to effectively run the league over the next five years. However, there is not too much to give as we seek the development of the future of young Nigerians.
Some believe the state of the Nigerian economy is deterring companies from investing. How true is this thought?
Nigeria is a strong economy that will grow next year with a GDP of 3-3.5%. Nigeria’s GDP per capita is well over $2,000, which is healthy for most African countries. Nigeria’s economy is five times larger than Kenya’s. We cannot ignore the challenges, but we also have broader investment opportunities. Compared to the challenges, the potential return on investment is so high that you can’t get the same returns in most other markets.
Nigeria has a steadily growing market with diverse commodities, people and potentials with massive growth in various sectors of the country ranging from technology, oil, banking, etc. If you have to win in Africa, your best bet will be Nigeria. We are not oblivious to some of the challenges that give rise to certain considerations, however, when we pay attention to the massive youth bulge and this market’s appetite for sport, especially football, it will make you stop and think about the simple potential of engaging this market.
What does the ‘more than a game’ mantra mean to HiFL, investors and the league’s contribution to talent development and management in Nigeria?
It’s not just kicking the ball in football. Football is still a sport, but what you build from football is more than a game. Many people see footballers, but there is a lot of hard work that makes that footballer. If you are to win at football, you must understand teamwork, discipline, patience, etc. To enjoy the matches, we need good stadiums and other infrastructure. HiFL is that platform that helps drive investment in renovating dilapidated stadiums, developing football players into leaders beyond the games, developing coaches, and intrinsically building character and integrity, which is a principle for a nation that will prosper during these times. HiFL remains that channel of unity, bringing people together across the country, regardless of tribe or religion, in pursuit of a purpose greater than each of us for the benefit of nation building.
I was very disappointed that we didn’t qualify for the World Cup in Qatar. Nigeria has nothing to do with not qualifying for a competition organized by a sports body in the world with the level of raw talent that we have in the country. What has been missing for a long time, and what HiFL seeks to accomplish, is the organization to ensure that you identify, nurture and deliver talent for every competition in Nigeria. This is what HiFL does and this is the bridge that HiFL wants to build. We aim to become that conduit that provides talent to Nigeria in all football competitions in Nigeria and globally. It’s not just about sponsoring a game, it’s about building a brand that’s bigger than us and bigger in aspiration so everyone can brag about being part of producing the next leaders.
How would you access league visibility so far and what are the broadcast opportunities across the continent?
HiFL has gained massive coverage over the past four years through our media partners Super Sport. The brand has gained visibility in several African countries. Investors may need to know that HiFL has been invited to play university champions in South Africa, which brings us to another dimension of the immense opportunities in terms of what we can do with the brand to promote inter-African competition , which brands can leverage. As the year progresses, we hope to play regional invites, perhaps Kenyan champions, Ghanaian champions and other African countries, contributing to the emergence of an African Collegiate Champions League for champions from various universities across Africa to play the interesting game of football.
There is so much content that can be leveraged and marketed in the international market for continental and global audiences to appreciate what is happening in and for African sports. I believe that by expanding Africa, you create potential between Nigeria and other African countries that want to be part of collegial integration. There will be huge benefits for investors, partners, broadcaster owners and content providers in Nigeria and Africa.