Nigerian youths are crazy about football. And they are fantastic storytellers about the game. The soccer buffs among them will eat, drink, sleep and dream European soccer. Their fanatic support of European clubs is legendary. A Man U fan is more than a fan. He is Man U 4 Life. If your brand can generate stories that excite them; if it fits into their world, their passion; or can make them shine and laugh they will become your raving fans.
Listen to them discuss a football match.
“When that Chelsea player lobbed the ball into our side.” He is talking about Man U side, his favourite club. You get the message; ‘Man U side’ has become ‘Our side.’ That is the language of a fan, not a customer. This is theNigerian football lover for you. That is the way they talk when they become your fan. If they believe in your brand, they will become it, abide in that brand just as they expect the brand to abide in them. They become your brand, you become their brand.
The die-hard Liverpool fan will wear Liverpool T-Shirt, use any product that bears the club’s logo, or agrees with the club’s interest and support. Check out his bedroom, you will see the club’s large posters pasted on the wall. He cherishes the club’s interests and fortunes. If they dwindle, say they lose a match; he becomes sad, even catches fever or even mourns as if his relation died. Despite the loss and his bad feelings, he still sticks with his club.
He can even engage other club supporters in fierce arguments and verbal war in defense of his darling club. Sometimes emotions run high and a serious fight breaks out inflicting serious injuries on the combatants. They are ready to fight and die for the European football clubs they support. That is the trademark of the football loving TruNaija (Nigerian youth) . Can they do so for your brand?
Chelsea fans in Naija are the most riotous. The club commands the largest number of raving fans here especially among the low class citizens, school dropouts, commercial bus and cab drivers, motor park touts, social deviants, drug peddlers and smokers and others of their like. Their support for Chelsea is total, win or lose. Win Chelsea in a match and you celebrate the victory near them, you are in trouble. They can lynch you.
‘This is not my Man U,’ said a fan after losing to Barcelona in the 2011 EUFA Cup final. Soon after the match ended, the debates among fans of both clubs became heated and emotional leading to violent clashes in some cities of Naija. These fans are ready to fight anytime, any where for their darling clubs. When they love a brand, they invest their money, time and emotions on it. And when emotions flow, the brand-fan relationship becomes tighter and deeper.
Your brand can pull out the money from their pockets and handbags if it can make their emotions flow. This is the real challenge. It is emotions that can make your customers live in your brands. And you can evoke emotions with storytelling. But really, customers don’t live in brands, fans do. The challenge is how to change your customers to fans so that they can abide in your brand. You can do that with storytelling.
And the European football story in Nigeria is that of club support, fun, entertainment, gambling, and business though the game is played thousands of kilometres away. The big brands of European soccer making waves in Nigeria are, The UEFA Championships; Bundesliga, the German League; Serie A the Italian league; the Spanish League and English Premier League. Whenever teams in these competitions engage themselves in competitive soccer for a cup, Naija fans are held spellbound. It is as if the match is being played in this country.
Some fans are very fierce in their support of the clubs they love. Come and see the campaigns in Naija for these clubs before any crucial match. Sometimes, it is fanatical. And in many cases, it results in brawls and big fights between supporters of different European clubs.
The support of clubs sometimes goes beyond the ordinary. At times, emotions run high. The big names are Manchester United (Man U), Barcelona, Chelsea, Arsenal, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, and others. For these football clubs, their images loom large in Nigeria, and they command large followership of fans that are even prepared to trade blows, fight, or engage in heated arguments in support of their clubs. The impact of European soccer in Nigeria is so intense that it is shaping the way soccer fans relax and unwind amidst fun, food and drinks.
Two European clubs that pull the largest crowd of supporters here are Man U and Chelsea. And the curious observer of the profile of these supporters will see clear differences of social class, education, and income power.
Man U has captivated the fanatical support of the middle, professional and upper class, who have flat screen television sets at home, and subscribe to cable television. And after any win by this football club, you will hear shouts of, Man U for Life! by excited fans. This is followed by thronging of beer parlours and pepper soup joints in many cities to celebrate the wins. When they gather there and relish the win, you will hear agitated fans tell so many stories about the match; narrate all sorts of analysis and do rigorous discourse of the game that has just been played. After every big match, there is plenty of soccer storytelling largely in pidgin English such as this lamentation about a loss by Chelsea:
First fan: “Na lie, Mikel no play well. E no dey for that game at all. See as e just dey fall for field. As mid-fielder, e suppose to distribute the ball well.”
Second fan: “Nobi only Mikel play badly. What of Drogba? E just dey run around for field. I know no why Mourinho (the coach) no wan bench am.”
Despite any loss, the fans stay with the teams they love and support. Chelsea on the other hand is in total control of the masses, the lower class, the street boys, the motor park touts, jobless youths and street urchins popularly known as area boys, in Lagos metropolis. They are more in number, very noisy, are very fanatical in their support for Chelsea, and are even prepared to die for the team. Their main rival is Man U.
Whenever Man U confronts Chelsea in a big match, there is tension in Lagos, even before the match day. The UEFA Cup Final for 2008 between Man U and Chelsea was a storm in a tea cup in Lagos.
Seven days before the match, the tension was palpable in the city. Who will win the match? The big question triggered intense debates all over the city and sometimes resulted in pre-match fights between supporters of the two clubs. Sports newspapers increased the tempo as they soaked supporters with interviews, latest news and rave reviews of the clubs’ preparations, fitness of players, and the final match strategies.
“Man U will win; we are Man U for Life.” The supporters will always chant to the chagrin of Chelsea supporters who respond vociferously with Up Chelsea! Chelsea supporters in Lagos outnumber the Man U for Life chanters. The Chelsea buffs are everywhere, more in the streets, marketplaces and motor parks. More than 80 per cent of commercial bus and motorbike drivers in Lagos are die-hard Chelsea fans. And they are very loud. They can throw caution to the winds and fight anywhere with bottles, stones, any dangerous objects, especially if they are high on tobacco and reek of alcohol.
Not so with Man U supporters. They are more cultured, better educated and work in white collar jobs. They are more gentle and refined in their football behaviour, though also fanatical in their support for Man U, hence the slogan, Man U for Life, is a clear indication they are not ready to switch their European Club brand loyalty, whether the club wins or not. And in many cases, Man U wins.
Back to that epic Man U/Chelsea Final. Twenty-four hours to the match, the whole city of Lagos was gripped with the fever of the match. There were unconfirmed reports of clashes between supporters of both clubs in different parts of Lagos. Bus drivers and passengers fought, radio stations rent the air with pre-match reviews and interactive programmes for listeners to air their views on the outcome of the match.
Man U vs Chelsea was so thick in the air that many residents waited impatiently for the match to come and go. Match day, fans thronged viewing centres and beer parlours to watch the game. If you want to enjoy the viewing of European soccer championships in Naija, do not watch it at home. Go to a viewing centre and sit with overzealous fans and listen to all sorts of stories and analysis as the match progresses. You can write a book full of such stories. Football storytelling is strong in Nigeria.
I heard the story of a Manchester United fan, at home in Lagos, watching the epic final football match with Chelsea. Suddenly there was power outage. He did not have a standby electric generator to power his television set. Desperate not to miss any action in the match, he dashed into a hotel that has a viewing centre. Unfortunately, the place was thronged by Chelsea fans.
He burst into the centre shouting Man U for Life. The Chelsea supporters there promptly threw him out. Man U eventually won that match to the chagrin of Chelsea fans. Oh! Hell was almost let loose in Lagos. As Man U fans celebrated, though in a subdued tempo, Chelsea supporters almost went on rampage.
So many blames by the Chelsea fans. But the fact remained that Man U won on penalty kicks after both teams drew level at the end of extra time.
Come and see celebrations by Man U Fans. Three days on, they were still celebrating. Even married women joined in the fray. One madam, a Man U supporter threw open her restaurant and offered customers, ostensibly Man U fans, free drinks. The Man U fever is very strong in Nigeria. To say that Chelsea fans were… disappointed… that is being charitable; bitter… yes, because that was the first time, I was told, their beloved club got very close to clinch the UEFA Cup. And they missed it.
Even the friction resulting from support for European clubs trickles down to families, sometimes breaching the peace at home, causing quarrels among children, and creating challenges for parents in managing their children. Such is the impact of European soccer on the emotions of youths, sometimes polarizing family members.
The story of European soccer brands is not only about play. It is also about business. People gamble before matches, some even going into bets. Viewing centres are springing up all over Lagos fitted with flat screen TV’s and connected to cable television channels. Match fixtures are displayed on blackboards planted on street sidewalks for the attention of passersby. These centres charge gate fees for soccer fans who want to watch matches.
Some hotels and hospitality outfits have joined the fray of showing such matches to attract more patronage. Many of them on match days bring out television sets out in the open for free viewing. But every patron watching the match is required to buy drinks.
(2 November 2011)
Eric Okeke is a storyteller, editor, business writer, motivational speaker and author of the best selling book: I Want a Husband. He is one of Nigeria’s most experienced financial journalists. He has published several articles in local and foreign publications and in websites such as http://www.ezinearticles.com, www.ezinearticles.com and www.writingcareer.com. He is currently running Infomedia Company, a media consulting and information marketing company. Visit his blog at http://sallywantsahusband.blogspot.com