Nigeria Professional Football League System - Everything You Need to Know

Nigeria Professional Football League System - Latest Review By Benson Chukwueke
The highest level of football in Nigeria is the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), which was yet  another change of name in 2013... In a bid to rebrand and improve the league further, which has gone through several transformation process from Nigeria National Division1 league to Nigeria Premier League before the current structure.

 In 2012, the NPFL (then called, Nigeria Premier League) was ranked as the best in Africa and 24th best in the world by the IFFHS, the rating puts it a spot above the Scottish Premier League.

The Nigeria National League (NNL) and Nigeria Nationwide League 1 and 2, are currently the second third and fourth divisions. The three worst teams from the NPFL are replaced by the three best teams from NNL at the end of each season.

The NNL is conducted in four groups of 8 teams (Group 1A, 1B and Group 2A and 2B) since 2016...Group1 northern teams and Group 2 sourhern teams; with the season culminating in a play-off. The finalists and third placed teams in the play-off replace the three worst teams in the NPFL.

Three out of the four worsts teams from each of the NNL groups are relegated to the Nigeria Nationwide league 1 after another playoff.

Unlike in many top European leagues, the NPFL starts in February or March and ends in November or December. In each season, each club plays each of the other clubs twice, once at home and another away. The current system, with 20 clubs so the teams played 38 games each for a total of 260 games in the season.

The three lowest placed teams by the end of the season are relegated to the NNL and the top three teams from NNL after play-off are promoted, replacing the relegated teams.

The top two of the NPFL qualify for the CAF Champions League, while the winner of the Federations Cup, qualify for tthe CAF Cup of the next year. If the Federations Cup winner also finish on the NPFL table as 1st or 2nd,  then the runners up of the Federations cup will take the Caf Cup spot.

In 2012, League Management Company (LMC) was registered by Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) as a private company owned by Nduka Irabor and run the NPFL with its Member Clubs who make up the League at any one time, Each club is a shareholder, with one vote each on issues such as rule changes and contracts. The LMC would have commercial independence from NFF,  giving the LMC licence to negotiate its own broadcast and sponsorship agreements.

It's noteworthy that LMC has enter an affiliate agreement with Spanish La Liga...for training and exchange of resources.

The NFF will no longer hold any shares of the League, but as national governing body for football in Nigeria the NFF is responsible for sanctioning competition Rule Books,and regulating on-field matters. It also organises The Federations Cup competition, in which LMC Member Clubs compete with the lower division leagues and even amateur clubs. The NFF also has the ability to exercise a vote on certain specific issues, but has no role in the day-to-day running of the NPFL, NNL and NNWL

Such independence is also extended to the women League, that is right now trying to re-structure the entire women football league system.

Media Rights and Sponsorship
Curently, SuperSports are the exclusive holder of the NPFL television broadcast right for the period of five years. Recently, there are calls from different quarters to categorize the television right to include some Nigeria free-to-air terrestrial tv like AIT and NTA24 stations. SuperSports is only able to broadcast one live match out of ten games played in a week, leaving the other nine matches uncovered. This has really limited the choice of viewers as well as their interest in the league.

The controversy that trail the Sponsorship of NPFL is such that former Sponsors, MTN, threatened to sue LMC and Globacom for breach of contract, has left the league running without title sponsors for two seasons now. Although, NPFL has kind of associate sponsorship with Star Lager beer.

However, the Second tier, NNL has recently concluded a title sponsorship deal with Bet9ja.

Some NPFL clubs such as 3SC, Rivers United. Remo Stars, ABS.... also concluded shirt Sponsorship deals. The shirt sponsorships doesn't follow the success of the clubs as found in places like europe. They are more as a result of a club' s marketing clouts and positioning.

Stats And Achievements 
Enyimba International football club of Aba is regarded as Nigeria's most successful club, won the league the highest number of times 7 seasons and the only Nigerian club ever to have won Caf Champions league...which they won back to back in 2003 and 2004 respectively. Enyimba player, Mfon Udoh, also hold the record as the all time highest goal scorer in NPFL with 23 goals.

Enugu Rangers International arguably the most supported club in Nigeria, also won the league 7 times and hold the record as the oldest club since 1972 that has never been relegated. Rangers also broke NPFL match attendance record, had 52, 000 spectators in the finals of 2015/16 league season at the Nnamdi Azikwe Stadium.

Kano Pillar has also enjoyed lots of popularity recently, holding the record as the NPFL club to have won the league 3 consecutive times back-to-back in three seasons. They also hold the record as the most and more consistent team that usually attract full capacity 18, 000 spectators at their home ground, Sani Abacha Stadium Kano

17 out of the 20 clubs in NPFL today are owned and funded by the state government, apart from ABS, MFM, Remo Stars owned by individuals and church ministry.  When a football loving politician like Orji Uzor Kalu come into power, the state club begin to enjoy better funding and start getting good results in  the league, vice versa.

Generally, clubs are not properly funded, players and coaching staff are owed salary and bonuses running into many months and Contracts are not kept. So players are not motivated to give their best.

Consequently, the league is largely undermined as if it was modeled to be feeder to teams mostly in north Africa, Europe and China... Players abscond and clubs loose their quality to clubs abroad.

Young enterprising players refuse to sign for clubs in the league, but prefer to even travel to countries  like Vietiam, Malta, Bangladesh, Fiji Island to ply their trade. Therefore, most NPFL teams could not assemble enough quality at anytime, to compete at the continental level.

Football Agents and player's management 
Player's Agents or intermediaries  are not recognize in contract negotiations with players in NPFL clubs, not in line with Fifa rules and stipulations. Players are ask to negotiate their own contract almost under durex, without chance of involving any lawyer. Most players contract is for a season and renewable the next season. But no player is considered at anytime as a free agent unless the player is sacked or summarily dismissed or abscond from the club. Otherwise, current club retain the right to issue mandate demanding transfer fee for any player signed and not dismissed.

Player's agents and intermediaries only get involved when a player is being transferred to clubs abroad.

Players' Union Operation 
Professional football players' Union in Nigeria has struggled for recognition and association by LMC, clubs or even players themselves. Their membership and association dues are not duely paid. Compounded by the perenial  factional tussle between Austin Popo led Association of Professional Footballers of Nigeria (APFON) and Harrison Jala led National Association of Nigerian Footballers (NANF).

At one time former NFF General Secretary, Bolaji Ojo-Oba said both NFF, FIFA and FIPRO recognizes APFON and denounces NANF, yet the tussle is still on and professional players are not well represented nor protected during conflict with clubs or administrators.

Consumers Habits and Buying behaviour 
The average Nigerian fan require more quality football than what NPFL have to offer as entertainment at the moment. Satellite tv stations like SuperSports are offering world class european leagues and the consumers are almost addicted to Premier League, UEFA Champions league.... something far more better than what any Nigerian professional leagues could offer. More football consumers in Nigeria are buying merchandise like pay tv subscriptions, sportswears and souvenirs of these european clubs and a lot of capital flight out of the Nigerian economy.

Some school of thought are of the opinion that NPFL games isn' t that much of an inferior quality, but can be consumed alongside Premier League and other european leagues; if LMC establish a more aggressive marketing strategies and more inclusive live tv broadcasts as well as social media following.

What's Ahead?

The national Assembly has just pass the NFF bill to sanitize football administration in the country and allow private sector participation and investment. It makes provsion for professional development of football in line with international best practice. Most football analysts believe when the president finally assent the bill in the coming weeks it will strengthen the social and economic impact of football to the nation’s economy.

Nigeria Professional League System - Reviewed As At 2017

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