Former Super Eagles captain, John Mikel Obi recently became a brand ambassador for the betting operator, Betwinner, joining a long list of ex-Nigerian players that have taken up ambassadorial roles with betting sites in the country.
Mikel, who announced his retirement from football in September 2022, was never likely to stay too far away from the game for too long and has now teamed up with one of the leading bookmakers in the country.
He joins the likes of fellow ex-Eagles skipper, Jay Jay Okocha, who has been the face of Betking for about half a decade, and Kanu Nwankwo, who has pitched his tent with SportyBet.
Daniel “The Bull” Amokachi is a brand ambassador for BetBonanza, while former flying winger, Finidi George represents LuckyBet.
Victor Ikpeba has long been associated with bet9ja, while Yakubu Aiyegbeni has had a stint with Interwetten.
The pattern has clearly been set, and in the next few years, more Nigerian players will become ambassadors for betting brands.
It is easy to understand why betting operators would want to have ex-players as their brand ambassadors.
Nothing resonates better with Nigerians than football, which is arguably the No. 1 unifying factor in the country. By leveraging the popularity of football stars, betting companies would also become more popular and gain more customers for their businesses.
These players are generally seen as heroes in the country and would help boost the trustworthiness and public profiles of the betting brands.
And of course, the players are not endorsing the betting brands for free. They get paid huge sums of money to become the faces of these operators.
In the end, it is a win-win for both the operators and the players.
But is it a win for Nigerian fans and the betting public?
Sports betting is already very big in Nigeria, with about a third of the population said to be involved in betting activities.
The prospering union between betting companies and footballers would only further widen the reach of betting in the country.
That is not necessarily a good thing as betting comes with plenty of vices. We already have numerous cases of underage gambling, which will obviously increase as sports betting grows across the nation.
There is also the danger of betting addiction, which can spiral into financial, mental and social problems.
Having said that, it is not all doom and gloom. These partnerships between betting companies and ex-footballers could actually turn out well for the country if channelled in the right way.
It is OK for these footballers to promote betting offers and bonuses- that’s the main reason why they have been brought on board- but there must also be a strong responsible gambling message in these endorsements.
Perhaps, the betting regulators in Nigeria could be more forceful with their directives to betting companies, ambassadors and media houses regarding gambling advertisements.
They don’t have to be as drastic as the Ghanaian authorities, who have banned betting companies from using celebrities in advertisements or as ambassadors, but they can instead use these ambassadors to promote responsible betting and gambling education generally.
In Kenya, for example, the guidelines state that every betting ad must carry a responsible gaming message, specify the 18 or over age limit and display a customer care number at all times. The regulations also insist that gambling cannot be glamorised in any way.
Hence, all licensed betting companies in Kenya, examples of which can be seen on My Betting Sites Kenya, are all very heavy on the responsible gambling theme.
Betking took the lead in Nigeria with their recent “Kings Know When To Stop” campaign, where Okocha and other Betking ambassadors encouraged bettors to bet responsibly. Other betting sites and their ambassadors should borrow a leaf from that.
That could go a long way in solving Nigeria’s gambling addiction problems.
Think of it this way: Nigerians generally love and trust their football heroes and are likely to believe what these heroes say.
Rather than telling Nigerians how they can become millionaires from sports betting, the overriding theme of their betting endorsements should be responsible gambling.