Dr. Onyekachi Onubogu is the Board Chairman of the Higher Institutions Football League (HiFL). With over 20 years of marketing and business leadership experience across different industries ranging from sports to communication and technology, Onubogu has spent a major part of his career building brands with a strong background in the sports sector in Nigeria. In this interview with FEMI ADEKOYA, Onubogu charged investors to take opportunities provided by HiFL to grow their brands while contributing to the country’s GDP.
Going by your experience across various sectors in Nigeria, what is your view on investment in the country pre/post-Covid-19?
Investment slowed down towards the start of COVID-19 but gradually opened up post-Covid especially in the African regions due to challenges in major parts of Europe, America, Latin America, and Russia. There has been a lot of investment in telecommunication, arts and entertainment industries in Africa in the past two years. Many brands are realizing that as important as growing your brand is, growing the industry and the economy where your brand exists is pivotal in staying relevant. We have seen companies investing significantly in properties like Big Brother, the Premier League, film and music development platforms etc. Partnerships and collaboration now and in the future will be an integral part of marketing investment for brands.
Effective collaborations post-covid have been and will continue to be the bridge between building brands and impacting social investment in whatever economy it exists.
For over three years, you have been at the helm of affairs of the Higher Institutions Football League (HiFL) as Board Chairman. What is your assessment of the support received from the Nigerian Business community regarding collaborations and partnerships with the brand?
The Higher Institutions Football League came to be out of the great desire to engage Nigerian youths positively by identifying, nurturing, and developing footballing talents across the nation, which aims at positioning Nigeria as a global campus football powerhouse while empowering and showcasing local talents. The league is unarguably the biggest privately owned platform driving collegiate sports in Africa and also potentially the biggest property in engaging youths directly on the continent.
We have enjoyed support over four years from brands like Stanbic IBTC, Nivea men, Minimie, Indomie, Bold, and many others brands. However, with the magnitude of the challenges and scale of the opportunities in HiFL, many businesses have realized that this is one of the biggest platforms to engage the future of Nigeria. We have over 60-70 per cent of Nigerians as youth. Therefore, a platform like HiFL can help train, enlighten and develop future leaders.
No property unites 2-3 million people yearly. HiFL is a small community with a large ecosystem. Brands that are preparing to stay relevant in the future must seek and lay hold on investing in brands such as HiFL with the capacity to bring together a pool of young Nigerians who will make buying decisions in the near future.
What is the attraction to investors in specific terms, figures and value during the recently held HiFL investors’ forum?
I will start with the reach of the brand. HiFL gives a reach of over 2-3 million students who will become major decision-makers as mothers, fathers and caregivers in a few years. Over 600-800 students who leave different schools yearly join the workforce of the economy. HiFL is like a funnel that constantly refreshes itself. In schools, the youths are part of the league and when they graduate, they become alumni. Therefore, going by these statistics, the league has a massive reach for a share market potential for any brand in Nigeria with massive opportunities in terms of media, branding, merchandising and visibility. HiFL is a brand that will give returns to any business both in the short, medium and long term.
What is the ideal investment figure for HiFL to stay relevant in the next five years?
There is no ideal figure. Any investment that wants to stay relevant must constantly rejuvenate itself and look for more strategic ways of doing things. For specifics, HiFL will require in the region of 10 Million dollars to run the league effectively in the next five years. However, there is no amount too much to give as we seek the development of the future of young Nigerians.
Some think that the state of the Nigerian economy deters businesses from investing. How true is that thought?
Nigeria is a strong economy that will grow next year with a 3-3.5% in GDP. Nigeria’s GDP per capita is well over $2,000 and that is healthy for most African countries. Nigeria’s economy is five times the economy of Kenya. We cannot overlook the challenges, but we also have wider investment opportunities. Compared to the challenges, the potential return on investment is so high that you cannot get the same returns in most other markets.
Nigeria has an ever-growing market with diverse raw materials, people and potentials with massive growth in diverse sectors in the country ranging from technology, oil, banking etc. If you must win in Africa, your best bet will be Nigeria. We are not oblivious to some of the challenges that cause some considerations, however, when we give attention to the massive youth bulge and the appetite this market has for sports, particularly football, it will make you stop and think of the sheer potential of engaging that market.
What does the mantra “more than a game” mean for HiFL, investors and the league’s contribution to talent development and management in Nigeria?
There is more that goes into football than just the kicking of the ball. Football remains 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 must win in the game of football, you must understand teamwork, discipline, patience etc. To enjoy games, we need good stadiums and other infrastructure. HiFL is that platform that helps to push investment across the renovation of dilapidated stadiums, building soccer players to be leaders beyond the games, developing coaches and intrinsically building character and integrity which is a tenet for a nation that will thrive during these times. HiFL remains that conduit for unity, bringing people across the nation together irrespective of tribe or religion in achieving a greater purpose greater than every one of us for the benefit of nation-building.
I was greatly disappointed that we did not qualify for the World Cup in Qatar. Nigeria has no business not qualifying for any competition organized by any sporting body worldwide 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 supply talents for every competition in Nigeria. That is what HiFL is doing and that is the bridge that HiFL wants to build. We aim to become that conduit that supplies talent for Nigeria in every footballing competition in Nigeria and around the world. This is not just about sponsoring a game but it is about building a brand that is bigger than us and bigger in aspiration so that everybody can boast of being part of the production of the next leaders.
How would you access the visibility of the league so far and what are the opportunities for broadcast across the continent?
HiFL has gained massive coverage in the last four years thanks to our media partners Super Sport. The brand has gained visibility across several countries in Africa. Investors may need to know that HiFL has been invited to play the University Champions in South Africa, which brings us to another dimension of the immense opportunities as regards what we can do with the brand in promoting inter-African competition, which brands can exploit. As the year goes by, we hope to play regional invitationals, maybe the Kenyan champions, Ghanaian champions, and other African countries thereby helping emerge 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 commercialized in the international market so that continental and global audiences appreciate what is happening in and to African sports. I believe that as you expand Africa, you give rise to the potential between Nigeria and other African countries that want to be part of the collegiate integration. There will be huge benefits for investors, partners, broadcast owners and content providers both in Nigeria and Africa.