When the NFF announced that the NFF Federation Cup will now be addressed as “AITEO Cup”, it was received with celebrations and was a sign of better things to come. AITEO, an energy solution company, acquired the naming right of Nigeria’s oldest football competition on June 28, 2017 for 5 years commencing with the 2017 season.
The sponsorship was on a Cost Value Arrangement which was to “see AITEO underwriting the costs of the organisation of the competition which encompasses the costs of organising the competition from the Round of 64 to the men and women’s finals, solidarity support to Football Associations of the 36 States and the FCT, expenses and indemnities of match officials, support to participating Clubs, Media, Branding/Activation and Prize Money to winners.”
Expectations shut up beyond the roof – improved branding and organization, fans to the stadium, solidarity to teams, improved media coverage and prize money – 25million Naira and 10million Naira for the men and women category respectively.
Few weeks ago, the 2019 AITEO Cup ended in less glamorous fashion in the only televised match of the competition in the season. Kano Pillars victory over Niger Tornadoes in Kaduna was marred with the pitch invasion event that followed after the final whistle. While the televised picture quality on was poor and the penalty shootout poorer, the fans management of the stadium was poorest. At the time of the trophy presentation, the Ahmadu Bello Stadium that was filled to the brim was almost empty. The fans were dispersed with tear gas. For Nigeria’s oldest and most glamorous competition, it was without glamour.
The route to the final included a total of five walk overs – three in the men’s category and two from the women’s category – all of which involved lower league or “smaller” teams. In the Round of 64, Ben Ayade FC couldn’t make the trip to Nanka against Kwara United while FC IfeanyiUbah feeders missed the Lokoja date against Gombe United. In the next round, Port Harcourt City FC couldn’t make the trip to Abuja to face El-kanemi Warriors. In the women’s category, Vera Gold were walked over by Bayelsa Queens in the Round of 16, while Linda Ayade FC suffered same fate in the previous round against Osun Babes.
In the three seasons of the AITEO Cup, there have been 16 walk overs recorded in the competition, 2 fewer than the total in the three seasons before. The minute change raises concerns over the level of support available for the participating clubs.
Branding and media is not left out of the concerns. The AITEO Cup Twitter handle (@AiteoCupNgr) was dormant during the 2019 competition. It was active in the 2018 edition but there was no tweet about the competition in 2019 – zilch. The sponsor’s official handle (@aiteogrp) tried salvaging the situation with tweets about the final but It is fair to say that the publicity of the tournament was way below par. Unlike the 2017 edition that had the draws shown live on television, the 2019 edition was like a secret society memo. Fixtures were mostly known via WhatsApp groups.
The competition has had three different formats in three editions. In 2017, the Round of 64 and 32 were played at the home team stadium, with no option for replay – straight to penalties if there is no winner in regulation time. The Round of 16 provided the option of a replay if it ends in a draw in the first leg. The quarter final and semi final were two legged. In 2018, neutral venues were used for Round of 64 and 32, while a group stage was used for Round of 16. Neutral venues were used for the quarter final and semi final fixtures. In the 2019 edition, it was neutral venue all the way. Will there be another format in the next edition?
The 2018 post World Cup NFF football crises and the abridged 2019 season may have resulted in a rushed AITEO Cup schedule but organizers have to improve with the scheduling of the competition. It is better to run the competition concurrently with the league.
So here we are, just over 2 years after the sponsorship deal was signed and three seasons completed. We are yet to see a major impact of the AITEO sponsorship of the competition. Will there be improvement in the next edition?
Photo-credit: @daily-trust & Bussy Buddies NG