Kenneth Ezaga: Dreaming Big for Tennis

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Dreaming Big for Tennis

If the Tennis Management Company Limited lives up to its word, Nigerian tennis players can dream of earning millions of naira competing at home. That sort of prize money is unheard of in local individual sports, but Kenneth Ezaga CEO of TMCL, the company that recently launched the Nigerian Tennis Majors, notes that a rich purse is fundamental to achieving the success that has so far eluded local sports. A marketing professional with a long-time strategic interest in sports, Ezaga believes the majors would be a game changer, in sports investments. Kunle Adewale, examines the picture of the majors painted by Ezaga Kenneth Ezaga’s passion for sports and sport development has never been in doubt. In his attempt to take tennis to an unprecedented level, his pet project – Tennis Management Company Limited, launched the Nigeria Tennis Majors, an avenue for ensuring Nigeria’s tennis players could boast of a package that would take them above poverty level and make the game a tourism value.

Asked what the Nigerian Tennis Majors is all about, Ezaga said, “Simply put, it is four major local tournaments in four cities around Nigeria every year. For now we have identified Lagos and Abuja as two host cities, while two other cities will be decided by soft bids. Any city interested in hosting any of the other two majors must come up with plans to provide decent facilities and security, as well as tourism value.”

In spite of Nigeria already boasting of a lot of tennis tournaments, Ezaga believes there is the room to accommodate many more.

“Sportsmen will tell you that regular high-level competition is essential for constant improvement, but we think the number of top local tournaments is few. Even worse is that prize monies are way too low to support the players, and certainly too insignificant to capture public imagination. We want to change that by providing a platform for regular high-stakes, high-paying competition.

“Also new is that we will be packaging the tournaments for export. Given that much of sports success is driven by television rights, we want to reach the rest of Africa and Africans in the Diaspora with top quality TV content. Nigerians in the Diaspora are in the millions and well off enough to represent a significant opportunity for TV revenue. Think about it, in 2016 they remitted $21 billion to this country. Add Diaspora Africans and do the mathematics.”

On whether the Nigerian economy can support this, he reacted thus: “Nigeria is probably the only country in Africa with the dynamics to pull off a massive project like this. It is however important to note that, properly executed, the money to run these majors would ultimately come from overseas. We’re the most populous country in Africa. We have significant economic potential and we’ve got rich sports history. We also have huge entertainment pedigree in Africa – If it succeeds in Nigeria, it is wanted by much of Africa. How about our vast land area and stunning natural beauty, which means we can host several majors in exciting places across the country.”

Ezaga indeed accepted the fact that the country may not boast of world-class facilities, but with some upgrade, the facilities already in existence should serve in the short-term.

“Over the next few years, we are optimistic that interested states will see the economic value in building bigger and better arenas. Every tournament will focus attention on their states from around the world. Beyond that is the boost to local business, with thousands of visitors checking into local hotels, patronising local transportation, bars, restaurants, traders, buying artifacts and so much more.”

He is however of the opinion that the majors will give more to Nigeria than it will take from it.

“Without a doubt, we’re talking about the creation of thousands of new direct and ancillary jobs across the country. Wimbledon, the least employing of the global slams, for instance, employs over 6,000 people. We also have a big and beautiful country, let’s show it to the world and attract international interest, sponsorship, and investments. Our champions will be obligated to promote all that’s beautiful about Nigeria, especially our many wonderful tourism destinations. Socio-culturally, the stars will offer a healthy new way to unity, hard work, fair competition, merit, compassion and wealth for our young.”

He also has a strong conviction that since sports was huge entertainment; it should be competing with music, movies, and comedy for the minds of consumers. “We won’t stand a chance without stars that can go toe to toe with the likes of Whizkid, Basketmouth and Tiwa Savage. While fans love sports, it is the stars they follow. If you don’t have stars, you cannot have a sports business. Rewarding our champions highly is as much a reward for their efforts and career development as it is a business strategy to get fans and sponsors. An entire economy is created around that prize money.

 “The stars can live in highbrow areas, date movie and music stars and generally live well. So they attract fans and constant media attention. They are on red carpets and wherever they go talk is about them and the majors. Financial comfort also means they can afford to focus on their training in the type of tennis resorts that presently don’t exist in Nigeria, and this opens up a whole new kind of business in sports hospitality. They can then hire top coaches, nutritionists, physiotherapists, psychologists and lawyers. In addition, different sectors of society begin to invest around this development.

“Parents will increase investments in the children’s tennis careers; secondary and tertiary schools will invest in tennis courts and facilities not to miss out on tennis-passionate students, while at grassroots level people will organise themselves to raise their own talents as they aim for the prizes in the majors knowing their wards can now lead wealthy and fulfilling lives playing tennis in Nigeria. Some Nigerians abroad may even relocate to the country to play in the majors.”

On how much the organisers are looking at in terms of prize money, Ezaga stated that at least there would be N10 million in champion’s purse per major. “Don’t forget that winning the majors will inevitably attract brand endorsement deals, so if a player wins the grand slam in a given year, say all four opens, and gets a major brand endorsement, we are probably talking of well over N100 million in earnings in a year. I would advise any tennis player to start training like hell.

“On our board are tested professionals. We are also forging key partnerships ahead of the maiden tournament – the Abuja Open – in May next year. We are currently talking with the Nigerian Tennis Federation, NTF, and major tennis clubs. The NTF under outgoing President Sani Ndanusa was extremely supportive, while the incoming president, Dayo Akindoju, is open to constructive talks,” he noted.

The CEO of TMCL however urged the media to propagate it to the tennis world that the Nigerians were coming. “It is our goal to have five Nigerians in the ATP Top 100 in 20 years, and to tell you how difficult that is, there is none in the ATP Top 1000 presently,” he said