By Muyiwa Kayode
Ben Bruce is right. There is absolutely no reason why our Super Eagles Jersey shouldn’t have been made in Aba. We have a multitude of talented designers who could have designed it. We also have the tailors to sew it. Although NIKE is an American global brand, the shirts were made in Thailand, another Third World country. Most probably, the tailors used machines made in China. So what are we talking about? The NIKE brand name is the reason we are forced to pay N40,000 for each of the shirts. What this means is that we are enriching an American brand instead of empowering our own people! The high price tag also means a lot of football loving Nigerians will not be able to wear an authentic Super Eagles jersey to show their support for the national team. When the national team jersey sells for more than twice the minimum wage, something is terribly wrong somewhere! And I am absolutely ashamed of this international embarrassment.
Senator Ben Bruce had tweeted
“Just imagine if those 3 million Nigerian Super Eagles jerseys were made by a firm in Aba rather than NIKE. Aba tailors have the capacity to produce them. We just lost an opportunity to infuse at least $100 million into the Nigerian economy and provide jobs for our youths”.
There are many reactions to the tweet. Some deride our local tailors, saying they are not reliable and would most probably not get the jerseys ready on time. Some say the quality would be very poor and the jerseys would be torn at the slightest tug! This is where the essence of branding comes in. We are not paying N40,000 for each of the Super Eagles jersey because it’s not possible to tear them. No. We are paying for the NIKE brand name.
Nike needs no introduction and is easily one of the biggest brands in the world. Nike sportswear are worn by some of the top stars across different sports. But guess what? Nike doesn’t own factories that make them. The company focuses on building the brand, through design and marketing. When you wear NIKE, it’s not about the jersey. It’s about the brand name. That is the power of branding. The NIKE Super Eagles jerseys are made in Thailand. And truly, they could have been made in Aba while still wearing the NIKE brand name. What has happened in Thailand is the creation of industrial competitiveness, giving NIKE the confidence and assurance that their demand for high quality would be met and at a competitive price too. There is absolutely no reason we cannot develop Aba to similar levels.
Many have posted pictures of imitation Super Eagles jerseys and commended the skill and ingenuity of the tailors that made them. Others have condemned what they describe as intellectual property theft and piracy. I commend Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, who has vowed to proudly wear “Made in Aba” throughout his tenure and beyond. And I dare say beyond wearing the brand, he should do everything possible to build one of Africa’s largest manufacturing hubs out of this initiative. Just as global brand owners go to China, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan and other countries in Asia and Eastern Europe, we should build an industry that attracts investors from around Africa and the rest of the world.
The next level is to build our own brands. The equivalent of the tailors in Aba are the tailors in Thailand who made our Super Eagles jerseys for NIKE. We need to build our own sports brands too. Our local league is fast growing and there is a huge market for jerseys and sports merchandize. Many of our local football clubs don’t even wear good quality jerseys while some of them buy jerseys from China and Europe. This should not be the case. It is not enough that we have garment makers in Aba. We must also create brands that will give ultimate value to these entrepreneurs. I will give an example. The Senegal National Team best-selling jersey, which they wore at the 2014 World Cup was designed and produced by ROMAI SPORTS, a sports brand based in the United Arab Emirates. ROMAI started more than 20 years ago with one of the local clubs, Al Wasl. But today, the brand has gone international and apart from Senegal, has made jerseys for other countries including Jamaica. There is no reason we should not have local brands making the jerseys for our local teams. Such local brands can develop into global brands and spread their tentacles across Africa. There is no law that says a team must wear NIKE, ADIDAS or PUMA. The same way these brands were created, we can also create and build our own brands.
Our entrepreneurs in Aba must develop from making commodities to building brands. Of course there is a major role to be played by contract manufacturers. But ultimately, the real value is in brands. With a market of more than 180 million people and a culture of soccer frenzy, the potential for sports brands in this market is incredible. However, we should not expect the football federation to go to Aba and ask them to make the national team jersey like some people assume. That’s laughable. What we should encourage is the development of indigenous sports brands. The national team must be kitted by a brand. But I would love to see the day our Super Eagles is kitted by an indigenous brand.
While we get carried away by the excitement of participating in the World Cup, Senator Ben Bruce has thrown up a challenge to all stakeholders in our sports and business, as well as the business of sports. We must awaken to the huge opportunity and the business opportunities that sports provide. I know the makers of imitation jerseys are having a field day so to speak. After all, even if the authentic jersey isn’t sold out, it is too expensive for the majority of football fans to buy. But we must develop the industry and use our prominent role in world football to economic advantage. We must look beyond jerseys and kits, and see the holistic picture of all the economic benefits and industries we can develop around football. Next to public transportation, football is one of the largest employers in the United Kingdom. Given our population and our passion for the game, we have yet another game changer in our hands. We must make the most of it.
As we head to Russia, expectations are high. We must however look at the full picture and see beyond Russia 2018. We must envision a brighter dawn for our football, while using it as a powerful platform to unleash our economic potential as a nation and mobilize our people behind a common purpose. We must use this to overwrite the negative narratives that have become suffocating in our national and even international media space. We must use this opportunity to burnish the image of our nation. This is the task our leadership must take up. The time is now.
• Muyiwa Kayode is CEO at USP Brand Management and author, The Seven Dimensions of Branding. Brand Nation is a platform for promoting national development based on the universal principles of branding.