A Peep into the Belly of the League Management Company- By Segun Odegbami

I found out a long time ago that some stakeholders in Nigerian football are very sensitive, emotional and protective of the body called the League Management Company, LMC. They do not like the organization to be a subject of discussion or scrutiny of any kind. They love to hear or sing its praises but hate any form of criticism with a passion. I have often wondered why that should be so but never taken the trouble to interrogate the subject beyond the surface.

I am not about to even do that now, but with the LMC holding the key to the growth of domestic football and the football industry in Nigeria, it makes sense to examine why the company could not function properly in the recent past. Its activities have been in a lull for almost two seasons.

It was said that because the leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation were being hounded by crime agents, the distractions were affecting the productivity of the entirety of Nigerian football, including the LMC.

That’s the theory and the story.

But things should not be so considering that they are not so in the country where Nigeria borrowed the concept of the LMC to run the professional league, England. So, it ought to be a subject, not just of useful discourse and interrogation, but of close scrutiny and audit. In due course, it will be, but for now, just a cursory look, a peep, at the organization. In the last few days, the LMC has rebounded into the consciousness of Nigerians after a long lull.

Twice in the past week, the Chairman of the LMC addressed a press conference and announced a new and interesting sponsorship deal with a foreign television company that would impact the league again according to him. He is yet to provide details of the content of the deal.

One day after that good news, he was again on several social media platforms with a picture of himself at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, standing with the FIFA president and others, after signing an agreement of cooperation between the World Professional League bodies and FIFA. The details are also not yet made public. These are truly exciting positive developments considering where the LMC has been these past 2 years.

Despite the worst scandals in the history of FIFA, with all the hounding of its officials around the world, football went on undisturbed all over the world. That’s how it should be. The game should be bigger than the administrators that come and go with their different ‘luggage’ and ‘baggage’. The game, with its awesome power, should be immune from the vagaries of administration. Otherwise, if we allow the fate of administrators to determine the fate of the game, football would ‘die’ with what we are witnessing in Nigeria, an environment wracked by corruption.

The domestic league, particularly the professional league, is the heart and soul of Nigerian football development. It matters what happens to it. Much has surely been done by the LMC during parts of the last 5 or so years, but the last two have been barren, largely unproductive and now ugly.

Why would the NFF leadership be under the microscope of financial crime agents and the leadership of the LMC is involved? And that is affecting the fortunes of the League?

What is the relationship between the NFF and the LMC? The bodies should be two separate entities just as the relationship is between the English Premier League, EPL, and the English FA that the NFF modeled its relationship with the LMC after.

I went and read about the EPL and the English FA, and things became clearer to me, and now understand better what is wrong with the present structure and operations of the LMC that has not made it achieve the objectives for which it was set up. I now see better why a proper forensic of the whole organization be done in order to make the company more functional, more transparent, less wasteful, less intrusive in the operations of its owners, less expensive to run and more profitable to the shareholders of the company.

The LMC has only one property – the Nigerian Professional Football League, made up of 20 clubs who should be the sole shareholders of the company (with the NFF as a special shareholder). No one else who is not a stakeholder.

Just as in the relationship between the EPL and the English FA, the LMC, is a private and independent company, has should have no business with the NFF. Their interactions should be very limited to using the rules of the game as determined by the NFF to run the league and in giving the NFF its own share of the revenue generated by the LMC, mostly through the sale of television rights! Beyond that, the LMC and the NFF should be totally independent of each other.

This is how it is in England. I urge everyone to go to the net and read it all.

The EPL and the FA are totally independent.

The Chairman of the EPL is not even a member of the board of the FA. Another member, selected by the clubs, represents the EPL on the FA board. The Chairman of the EPL is a club owner elected by the 20 clubs from amongst them. His position is non-executive. He does not run the day-to-day activities of the EPL. He sits atop the board of the EPL, meets occasionally and sets down policies and guidelines for the management headed by a Chief Executive Officer hired and paid for that purpose to run the day-to-day activities of the company.

The Chairman of the EPL is not paid a salary.

The office is occupied by the owner of one of the clubs in the EPL. The office cannot be held by proxy. The Chief Executive Officer of the EPL is a professional employed to carry out the business of the EPL, particularly in the marketing of the League. He is on fulltime engagement, earns a salary and other emoluments, and has no business with the FA.

So, the Chairman can only receive sitting allowances like all the other few members elected into the board of the EPL. Each club is an equal shareholder in the EPL, each with one voting right only. They sit and share revenue accruing mostly from television according to the agreement between them. They pay the only other ‘special shareholder’ in the company, the FA, its share, period.

In England, the EPL is richer and more powerful than the FA.

The EPL Chairman does not go around with the English FA to market or for any purpose whatsoever. Each body runs its own business and manages its revenues. Each club also does their independent business and gets its share of the sponsorship money and bonuses at the end of each season.

The EPL Chairman cannot be involved in the finances of the FA, and become a subject of interrogation and financial investigations of the FA.

The EPL does not run the business of any of the clubs on their behalf. The clubs own and run their stadia, their ticketing, their branding, their marketing, their advertisements, their endorsements, their travels, their security, independently.

That’s why they are private companies.

The LMC has been, with good intentions, overreaching itself. The LMC should set the benchmarks only for clubs, organize the matches, negotiate the league sponsorship, pay the clubs their dues and bonuses as agreed by the clubs themselves, enforce the rules guidelines given to clubs, run and monitor the league and the clubs.

The LMC has been taking on more than it can conveniently chew. And it seems to be doing so in order to control the finances of the league – the sponsorship money.

It has, therefore, been taking on responsibilities that the clubs should handle on their own, and paying the bills, involving NFF members (Chairman of State FA’s who are NOT direct stakeholders in the Professional League) in its operations with the tar they bring, being involved in the NFF itself by occupying the position of Vice-President, paying salaries and monthly allowances to non-executive directors and the Chairman, and so on.

It will indeed be interesting to find out the emoluments paid out by the LMC and to whom within the company’s structure.

The whole concept of the LMC as a registered company is new and, understandably, shrouded in unclear details. As a result, nobody is seriously interrogating the system and structures.

For the good of the game, that should be done.

The original visionaries surely must have had good intentions and must have run it the best way they could, but after 5 years everyone can now see that things could be better with the league, the clubs and the game on the football field.

There is a need for a proper forensic audit of the structure and the operations of the LMC, to protect the reputation of its founders, stakeholders and managers, and to ensure that in the end everything is done to grow the game, grow the industry and ensure that the principal actors in all of this – the players – are well taken care of.

Segun Odegbami

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