Debbie Larry-Izamoje : ‘Women should know there’s enough room for them to thrive in sports business’
Debbie Larry-Izamoje holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Management from the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom and a Master’s degree in Management from the University College, London (UCL). She is the Chief Operating Officer of Brila Media Group, a sports media powerhouse that is continuously at the forefront of ‘sportainment’ in Africa. The Harvard-certified charismatic leader who successfully oversaw the rebranding of Nigeria’s first sports radio station, 88.9 Brila FM with inroads into the key cities of Lagos, Abuja, Onitsha and Port Harcourt, passionately focuses on sustaining and improving the legacy of the company by pushing the brand’s relevance across the various social strata.
Larry-Izamoje also holds certificates in Innovation and Strategy from Harvard University and User Innovation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and currently leads the vibrant team of sports media junkies that are on a mission to transform the sports media landscape in Africa through storytelling, up-to-date digital strategies, stakeholder management and innovative systems. She worked with the Management Committee of the Nigeria Women Football League, as a digital communications strategist and was crucial to the NWFLs identity rebranding in the year 2020.
Also known as the Entrepreneurs Best Friend, Larry-Izamoje who was recognised by Women Of Colour In Sports as a young woman on the rise in sports, tells IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, her passion for the business of sports and thriving as a woman.
Share your background and how it influenced your career path?
My parents are both in the communication business, and though I didn’t know at the time that I was going to end up in the same field, as a child, I was always intrigued by what happened behind the scenes of my favourite TV shows, football matches and so on. I remember this one show on Saturdays that was factored around puppets, while my friends were amused, I always tried to look closely to catch a glimpse of the adults I knew were controlling the show. It was the same thing when we went to birthday parties; the mascots always intrigued me and I got a huge satisfaction from asking their real names because the real ‘Barney’ or ‘Santa’ didn’t live in Lagos. It’s safe to say that this was why I ensured my educational path expanded my mind into business processes and gave me the answers I had been searching for. My degrees opened me up to the strategies needed for businesses to stay relevant in any age and the formation of my digital agency which transformed the communications processes of top clients around various sectors in Africa. It ultimately led me to my true purpose as a sports media executive.
As a passionate sports entrepreneur, how have your experiences shaped you today?
I was raised around sports journalists, professionals, and personalities. So I always had first-hand access to how their roles were carried out. I’m grateful for that experience because it opened me up to what makes Brila Media stand out and though my leadership has been very big on innovation, we have ensured that our USP remains the same. As a sports media entrepreneur, I recognise how much effort it takes to generate and deliver good content that is relatable to a multigenerational audience. This has shown me how important people are in delivering the vision of any leader or organisation. When you lead a team you must also realise that people are not perfect; this is why I try not to be overly critical of those I work with or even those we see representing Nigeria in tournaments. My stakeholders know that I am always a call away even when on a business trip and all team members across our four branches (Lagos, Abuja, Onitsha, Port Harcourt) are all aware of our yearly goals and are well equipped to achieve them. Brila is a company that has existed for 20 years, so even when I feel stuck, I seek guidance from our Board or my mentors. My goal is to ensure that the Brila legacy outlives me and that people know that we are the go-to for sports broadcast in Nigeria.
What do you consider critical for change and improvement in the Nigerian sports industry today?
Sports has been treated like an afterthought for far too long in our clime and hardly ever perceived as more than a mere recreational activity. I tell my colleagues that we have to educate people on the importance of sports business to the growth of an economy. I mean, look at what Rwanda and Morocco have achieved for their countries through sports development. Sports administrators must step up, and face grassroots and bureaucracy issues. Also, we must tell the stories of the amazing sportsmen and women, as well as the people behind the scenes that make everything happen; executives, media officers, journalists, coordinators, and so on. We also require better structures and investment so we can have world-class facilities. The world is slowly leaving us behind and we need to wake up.
What are some of the key innovations you have brought to sports broadcasting?
Brila Media was the first sports media organisation to kick-start visual radio in Nigeria. This was our way of reaching an even bigger audience through the use of technology. Our focus has always been on sports development in Nigeria and telling stories that are still being written. In 2017, we decided to launch a website that focuses on Nigerian sportsmen and women. We have heard testimonies of some Nigerian sports women and men getting brand endorsements after being cited by brands via the website. We also have a special product called Footballlive which allows the average football lover to get live scores of multiple matches at the same time. This is the only of its kind in Nigeria and is exclusive to Brila Media.
Women’s sports are gradually gaining mileage as they also make us proud in international competitions. How best are you ensuring that more women embrace sports?
I am very intentional about telling the stories of and pushing my team members to tell stories of the women proving their mettle. I visit the stadium on my free days to watch women play at the grassroots level and I remain close to Aisha Falode (Chairperson of the Nigerian Women Football League), who is also my mentor. Brila Media continues to market the women’s national team as the women’s world cup draws nearer. As a sports media executive, I realise now, more than ever, how important it is to showcase women in the sports business. I’ve therefore begun a mentorship programme which I carry out every year to ensure that I am holding the hands of young ladies who see themselves working and prospering in our industry. I want women to know that there’s enough room for us to thrive in the sports business and the industry needs us.
As a female running a thriving sports media outfit, what are some of the challenges encountered in the course of your work?
It is no news that as a woman in the sports industry, you have to work twice as hard to be recognised in sports, especially if you aren’t an athlete. And this is not peculiar to Nigeria. A woman that I’ve recently started learning from is Jeanie Buss, the president of the Los Angeles Lakers, but every time I mention her name, people ask ‘Who is that?’. So there’s a need to share more stories about the women in sports business. I’m hardly ever faced by these challenges or by anyone in the industry undermining my work because of my background, age, or gender. I have a responsibility to pave the path for the people coming closely behind me and to tell other women looking to transition into our industry that their dreams are valid.
What do you consider your key competencies?
I consider myself to be very creative. I’ve created successful digital campaigns for companies across various sectors in Africa, so I know it’s in me. I’m also a very determined young lady. In 2021, I was named ‘Woman to look out for’ by Women Of Colour In Sports (WOCIS), a sports business body in America. My creativity and digital expertise also led to my being chosen in 2021 as part of the management team of the Aisha Buhari Cup Invitational Tournament.
What drives you?
My purpose and passion drive me. I know that Brila is bigger than me. I tell the team that we cannot afford to fail because it’s bigger than us. It’s about the many people we entertain daily, on a global scale. We have people depending on us not just to be their most authoritative source for sports information, but sometimes to put a smile on their faces on a bad day.
How can we get more women to become successful and rise to the top as you have done; what tips do you have for younger women?
We have to make room, provide opportunities, and create conducive environment. As for my advice to younger women, they should not lose their steam or give up their dreams for anything. Whatever you want to become, you can become, and never doubt yourself.
How do you stay inspired and motivated?
My relationship with God first. I surround myself with people that inspire me, and I make sure I never stopped improving myself by talking to my mentors, reading books and so on. I’m also very big on taking time out to rest and restrategise when I feel overwhelmed. Quality time with the family always does the trick.
What is your life mantra?
The grace is greener where you water it. I believe focusing on your purpose and your process will lead you exactly where you want to be and that is the summary of my life’s story.