For an entrepreneur who started from a small shop somewhere in Borno Way, Yaba, Lagos and later moved to a sprawling ultra-modern office with arguably, the best studios in Africa, the Chief Executive Officer of Hot Sports Media Group, Mr. Taye Ige, has paid his dues. From running a weekly programme on NTA 2 Channel 5, Lagos, his outfit has become a content provider comprising other concerns like sports marketing and media mix. In this interview with Samuel Ajayi, the Hot Sports owner talks about success, creativity, and sports. Excerpts:
Hot Sports as a programme was originally meant to replicate the typical newspapers vendor scene of people arguing over football and other sports matters. How much of this uniqueness does the programme still retain?
The programme, Hot Sports, despite several changes over the years, has managed to stay true to its original concept of informed arguments on sports. It has retained that format only that different segments have been introduced to beef up viewers’ information needs and make it worth their while. You know informed arguments are the hallmark of the programme, but we also realised we could feature only one topic in the argument segment per episode. Hence, we have introduced a number of segments to give viewers a more rounded programme they can enjoy.
How many channels are you running now?
We run pan-Nigeria via the network service of the NTA. Gone are the days when we needed to syndicate. So, we just put it on the NTA at a very prime time of 10am on Saturdays, which is Nigeria’s traditional sports day and pronto, we are seen across the country. But don’t forget that the programme is also available on social media, YouTube, for instance, where you can view the full programme and snacks of it on other platforms.
How has sports marketing evolved in the last 25 years?
In far many more tremendous ways than we thought 20 or 25 years ago when it was generally seen at best as a vocation in Nigeria. Only few individuals like Sunny Osa Adun’s DBN had seen the light and were doing well with Godwin Dudu Orumeh of The Best of Football also pulling his weight in sports media marketing. As time went on, several people emerged with new platforms and began exploring several areas of this huge sector with varying degrees of success.
But don’t forget that there are 36 different areas in sports and you can see a lot of Nigerian companies involved in those aspects. The exponential growth witnessed in sports marketing cannot, however, be appreciated in isolation of the very sharp rise in value that sports itself has witnessed in Nigeria over the decades and even though it started before then. But we cannot discount the salutary effect of Nigeria’s highly successful outing at the FIFA World Cup in the USA in 1994, where the Super Eagles were tagged the most entertaining Team of the Tournament and subsequently ranked 5th on the Coca-Cola FIFA Ranking ladder; the Atlanta Olympics, which represents Nigeria’s best outing in the quadrennial games till date and other similarly successful outings, on sports marketing.
This binary growth has had some positive effect on Nigeria’s larger economy. The point is that success in sports is directly proportional to the economics of it. The good news is that it can still do far, far better. In order words, the more successes achieved on the field of play the more prosperity will come the way of sports people-athletes, coaches, officiating officials, marketers, athletes’ personal and team managers and several others down the value chain. For us at Hot Sports, our own specialties revolve around contracting relationships between sports and corporate Nigeria as well as creating content especially on radio and television and marketing them for commercial support. This explains our investment in television production facilities, setting up these studios to create media not just in sports but also in different genres of the business.
Talking about the facilities, they are quite massive and looking at the ultra-modern studios and adjoining offices, it will be difficult for a first-time visitor to believe that a sports marketing outfit put this up. What informed such a humongous investment?
The digitalisation of television in Nigeria ought to have happened years ago, but to date, has not fully taken place, although the present government has tried its best and few cities have gone digital. They started from Jos, the home of television in Nigeria. Abuja, Kaduna, Enugu, Ilorin are some of the other places that are currently experiencing digital television. My belief, and I could be wrong, is that these are being used as a test-run for the big boys like Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano, etc. When digitalisation hit all these places, Nigerians will be spoilt for choice as they will have a plethora of options of stations to tune in to at any given time.
In a place like Lagos, as an example, you can have up to 200 channels. I am talking of clean, clear free-to-air channels. The issue will not be about having a station running; it will rather be about content. What are you showing on your station? Viewers will always watch stations that give them what they want. That is for sure. It means production and content will be central.
So we thought that owners of those stations must look for production facilities. That was what informed the decision for the investment you have described as massive and humongous. By the way, those are your words and I don’t necessarily agree with you but, anyway, that is it. Even before digitisation reared its head, what I wanted to do was to have a damn good studio on the ground floor of a storey building and build our offices on top of it and erect our own mast. We had, of course, applied for a licence from the NBC as far back as 2007 for an all-sport free-to-air channel.
Did you get the licence?
Yes and no. Yes, because in principle, it was approved but no because there was no spectrum. Of course, we wanted Lagos and Lagos was and is still analogue. And it will still remain so until full digitalisation comes to the city. You see, for every portal occupied by an analogue channel, it can actually accommodate an average of six (minimum of four, maximum of eight) stations in a fully digitalised environment. But if, maybe no longer if, but when, digitalisation comes and frees up the space, then you won’t have those issues again. But in the meantime, we are getting ready.
Or shall I say we are actually ready to cater for the production needs of the community of television producers in Nigeria and beyond? As we speak, all these acclaimed reality shows that enjoy premium attention from segments of the Nigerian viewing audience, without exception, are produced from outside Nigeria. But that is set to become a thing of the past with the arrival of the HS Media Group Studios on the scene. We are about to arrest that trend of taking massively popular programmes out of Nigeria. We are going to stop creating wealth for other countries from the sweat of Nigerians. From the production crew, to facilities to script writers and so on, Nigerian producers currently create business opportunities for professionals in these other countries – not to talk of the ripple effect these things can have on the environment economically and socially. And for productions that are sponsored by Nigerian companies? No.
The truth is that you shouldn’t have Nigerian companies, making money off Nigerians but going to fund productions in another country. But you really can’t blame anyone for this. The truth is that these productions could not be done here because of lack of requisite facilities and that is why we are coming on board. And to tell you how right-headed this investment is, as we speak, even though we are just putting finishing touches to plans to order our equipment, we already have major productions, at least three of them lined up, ready to do business. As a matter of fact, The Price is Right has come through already. This is an American reality shopping show that has run in the United States for nearly five decades. Genesis Studios, the well heeled Nigerian production company have gotten the franchise to run it in Nigeria. Not only have we signed an MoU with them, Hot Sports’ group COO informed earlier in the week that all budgetary issues are now fully agreed upon and that everything is set and by April this year we start production.
Back to the issue of digitalisation: we have been on this issue for so long. What do you think is militating against it?
To be honest, I think it is nothing but the Nigerian way of doing things and it is unfortunate. And because Nigeria has not made it to digitisation, the whole of the west coast of Africa has not, whereas smaller, less endowed countries in other part of Africa with lesser potential to realise the full benefits, pardon my language, and have since gone past this issue. Prior to 2015, the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) has had to shift the deadline it gave Nigeria to fully digitise twice. And I cannot tell you that I know why. But since 2015, quite a bit has happened. They have started city by city.
Do you have any plans to work with bodies like CAF, FIFA and so on in terms of marketing their products and competitions?
I told you at the beginning that there are 36 different areas in sports and one should be careful not to bite more than he can chew. My focus is to get my studios running for now and become fully operational and be in a position to accept briefs from clients and meet their needs. Next will be to look at our own channels – our live party channel, the all-sport channel and the e-gaming channel about which my partner, Robert, is particularly very passionate. This is the focus for now. Remember, we have five different business units making up the group of companies. Hot Sports Marketing is now just one of these units. And we have a capable guy running it that went very high up in Guinness Nigeria Plc before joining us. So, all of us are just focused on getting the studios running. Again, don’t forget I told you at the beginning that our forte is sports media marketing. Buying rights and exploiting those rights locally is another area of sports marketing we have not really exploited or gone into despite being 23 years in the business. Whether we will go into it, is not my call exclusively until I sit down with my team, but we cannot run away from such opportunities if they arise since we cannot move against the time.
Recently, Cameroon lost the rights to host the 2019 African Cup of Nations. What’s opinion about the development?
I think the issue was that Cameroon was unfortunate; like shifting the goal post after the match had started. They got hosting the rights for a 16-team tournament, which was later increased by some 35 percent.
(Cuts in) It was even 50 per cent increase with additional eight teams.
You are right. It is not even the playing arenas alone but associated issues like hotel accommodation, transportation and so on. It would have been a miracle if they had succeeded, if they had been able to host the tournament and CAF could never joke with the Nations’ Cup since it is their flagship tournament. So CAF needed to do what they did and so we are all headed to Egypt.
Do you think increasing the number of teams will compromise the quality of the game?
I thought so really, but the advantages outweigh the disadvantages of the increase in size of the tournament. Football is a game that has grown phenomenally along with the interest it generates in fans. As a 16-nation tournament, every now and then, you see that one or two very good team have been left out because they did not qualify and thus quality and popularity and enjoyment of football itself are short-changed, not to talk about the economics of it. A more inclusive tournament will guarantee higher economic input arising from higher marketing proceeds. There is also the growth of manpower. The players have greater opportunity to showcase their talents and many more of them get exposed to scouts, who throng venues of the AFCON and other such high profile tournaments on behalf of the big clubs, thereby enhancing the economy of the continent. Like I said, the disadvantages might be there but the merits far outweigh them.
So, what are you working on with the NFF and the senior national team?
We are the official media partner of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, in the capacity of ‘official non-match partner’. That is to say, we have rights to anything and everything pertaining to the Nigerian national football teams except their matches. You see, there are quite a lot interesting things that go on behind the scenes when teams are in camp either for AFCON, the FIFA World Cup etc., and these can excite fans to no end. For instance, when they are going for a game, what do they do inside the bus? How do they feel coming back after they have won or lost the game? Who is the choral leader in the bus? And after losing a game, how do they react? The final pep talk by the coach, how does it go? There are lot of camp activities.
Which other sport do these players love to get involved in? Some are fantastic swimmers and tennis players. Who is the religious leader? Who is the pastor? Who is the imam? So we approached the NFF, paid for these rights, actually and we have them. Now as a vehicle to bring these exciting details to Nigerians, we have designed a programme called Beneath Eagles’ Wings, BEW. This programme will enable us to give expression to all I have captured above. The rights give us the opportunity to set up production facilities in the camp of Nigerian national soccer teams, male or female, and bring these behind-the-scene happenings to the enjoyment of Nigerians.
Finally, when will Hot Sports’ new office be ready for commissioning?
Like I told you, we are just about ordering our equipment. It has been a tedious journey to get to this stage especially financially. But finally, here we are.