Getting an interview with Efeoghene Ori-Jesu, founder of The Twitter Premier League, thetpl.org, and married daddy of one, is not exactly the easiest feat, but with about a month since the last TPL event in Lagos, it was time to sit him down to some questions about the TPL; the history of the concept, future plans, the rift with SociaLiga and the most pertinent question of when the TPL would be coming to Port Harcourt.
What is TPL all about?
“TPL is an opportunity to take your online connections and football bants unto the pitch and real life face to face interactions.” In a time when social media forms a more concrete facet of life for the average Nigerian youth, as compared to ‘real life’, TPL according to briefs on their about page serves to blur the line even further. Nigerian youth are enamoured by football with rivalries and boasting [bants, anyone?] tossed around on social media on a daily basis – and especially after football matches and the TPL afforded tweeters an opportunity to step to the pitch and prove their mettle in actual football.
When asked why football served as the outlet and not basketball or any other sport, Efe whose moniker on Twitter is Uncle Efe, @HL_BLue, has a succinct answer: “Football was naturally the birthplace of twitter banter because so much passion and pain and energy go into the online rivalries. We needed a physical outlet and TPL gives us the chance to do that; to own our passion outdoors.”
The Concept behind the Inception
The TPL started on the 29th of May, 2014 with a small tournament involving only four teams. “We split ourselves among the clubs we supported. The Red devils were created from Manchester United fans, the Blues from Chelsea fans, The Guns for Arsenal fans and the Rebels for all others. Then we had to get caterers and music to provide the party atmosphere our fans have come to love.”
Over the years, The Blues have rebranded into The Royals, The Rebels into The Knights and a number of other teams have also joined in. Between 29th May, 2014 and now, the TPL has successfully organized and held five other events with each being more successful than the previous. For Efe, who is 33 years old, the opportunities for growth seem to be endless.
The TPL board
“I serve on the TPL board as the director of innovation. I have to identify and harmonize all the bright ideas of the creative team to continuously improve TPL as a brand and an event.”
Other members of the TPL board include Oluwafemi Adebule who serves as the MD/CEO of the franchise, Adaeze Opara who serves as Director of PR and Online Presence, as well as Deola Ibitola who serves as the Director of Finance. Others who work on the TPL team are usually volunteers put in charge of different sectors and duties.
“I met all the rest of the TPL team on Twitter. Everyone who works on the TPL team volunteered out of interest and we all pulled our strengths together to execute the vision.”
Planning a TPL event
“It takes about 2 million naira to run an event like TPL. It takes about 10 partners/sponsors, and about 20 volunteers for different tasks. It also takes a lot of phone calls, internet bills, transport and logistics bills, and an amazing number of emails and slack chat messages.”
Planning for TPL usually begins a year ahead with various goals set for short and medium term, with applications to volunteer and partner usually coming in almost immediately after a previous tournament.
“Sign up to be TPL partner or sponsor is as easy as sending an email to contact@theTPL.org or calling 08023164498.” It is also advisable that one read the Sponsorship and Tournament regulations before application.
However, considering the current rift in the TPL family with the advent of SociaLiga, one can only wonder how many applicants would be reading those terms of reference this year.
The TPL franchise and SociaLiga
As with any successful idea, it did not take long before the concept was replicated by competition and with the TPL, this shot came from within their own camp. On November 2, 2015 an update on #TPL6 was released on thetpl.org blog. Two of the founding teams (The Royals and The Knights) along with two time defending champions The Saints FC and The Cubs were announced to be departing the TPL. Naturally, the news broke Nigerian Twitter with tweeters taking opposing sides quickly and shots flying from differnt corners of the field. When asked about the rift with SociaLiga, Efe had this to say:
“Some teams previously in the TPL were more inclined to organize an activity more suited to their hopes and aspirations. The nature of these hopes and aspirations would be best explained by these same teams in my opinion.”
On the 18th of December, the same date set aside for #TPL6, the breakaway rebel teams (which coincidentally included The Knights, formerly known as The Rebels) hosted a TPL-esque tournament called SociaLiga. The events holding on the same day naturally divided football-loving Twitter, leading to many questioning if the franchise would survive and what next for TPL.
But for Efe, this is not a problem.
Future Plans for TPL, What next after December 18?
“The TPL 2016 will feature the launch of a full league tournament format for the TPL, where players and fans can enjoy much more competitive football and regular entertainment spread over a number of weeks, culminating in the final main exhibition event. Plans are underway with our sponsors to maximize the fun in the format we choose and get Nigerians to participate in family fun sporting football.”
Football unites Nigerians in a way never understood, however, in the same vein the game can also split families and friends with rivalries that transcend blood ties. To regain the foothold on Nigerian Twitter and continue to spread her roots, it is obvious that TPL has to push beyond former limits and do things not done before. And one of those things is to move out of Lagos.
TPL is coming to Port Harcourt City
“Lagos presented an easier testing ground because, almost all the initial interest was from people based in Lagos,” says Efe who is based in Port Harcourt with his family. “Port Harcourt people also have come to demonstrate their willingness to follow suit and so there are plans to organize something similar in my city. Interest is the main factor […] it might not be [a] TPL branded event, but there are plans to hold a similar event in PH.”
Whether this means #TPL7 would be hosted in Port Harcourt or a minor franchise competition would be organized in Pitakwa, we understand that competition improves efficiency and Pitakwa people will be grateful to SociaLiga for forcing the hand of the TPL organizers to recognize the potential of Port Harcourt and the benefits of hosting a TPL event here.
Views expressed are only those of the authors.
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