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So much to gain from African Basketball League, says Udezue

30 April 2016   |   2:26 am
The ABL’s progress has been a pleasant surprise since it made its debut early this year in Lagos. We have exceeded all our expectations and projections.
Lagos Islanders and Izobe of Gabon battling for points in one of the African Basketball League matches at the Landmark Event Centre, Lagos…recently.

Lagos Islanders and Izobe of Gabon battling for points in one of the African Basketball League matches at the Landmark Event Centre, Lagos…recently.

The African Basketball League (ABL) set up to help grow the game in Nigeria has within the first three months thrown up so much dividends that the initiators have started projecting where the country would be in the next few years through the project. The ABL, according to its Chief Executive Officer, Ugo Udezue, was primarily set up to discover fresh talents, harness their potential and raise awareness of the sport across the African continent.  Fielding questions from ALEX MONYE, Udezue highlights the salient issues aiding/dogging his mission of transforming African basketball to the NBA standard.

What Has Been Your Experience Since The League Dunked Off In Lagos Three Months Ago?

The ABL’s progress has been a pleasant surprise since it made its debut early this year in Lagos. We have exceeded all our expectations and projections; our fan base is growing, our All-Star weekend attracts hundreds of fans from within and outside Nigeria.The All-Star game itself had more than 3,000 people in attendance and we have been successful in redefining the value of sports and entertainment in Africa. But most importantly, the ABL management is proud that our fans find value in this new innovation of basketball league in Africa. In an era when many countries are experiencing economic downturn, ABL has created over 300 jobs across Africa in such a short time.

Our emphasis is on local content, which implies concentrating on buying our kits from the local manufacturing companies in Africa. This situation has never existed before the ABL.

Do You Think Nigeria Is Ready For This Innovation Aimed At Redefining Sports Entertainment?

Nigeria is ripe for any innovation that has nothing to do with the oil sector. Entertainment is a big part of our culture. Our slogan is “more than a game” because sports and entertainment are one and the same. Our goal is to change the mindset and perception of sports as just not about winning a medal… we also want our fans to reflect on the memories of the half time shows, the ambience, the social environment, food, drinks and the whole fulfillment of an evening outing with family and friends after every game. This captures all the elements of what ABL stand for.

Credit should be given to various sports organisations in Nigeria and Africa for growing sports to the level it is now. All we are trying to do is to contribute towards the growth and development of sports and entertainment by coming up with sports entertainment models that will benefit the citizenry and aid Africa’s economic development.

So Far, What Are The Benefits Of The League To Nigeria And Africa In General?

After being a partner of one of the top sports management firms in the US for 15 years, I have understood the value of private driven sports enterprise in an economy. I was just in Houston for the NCAA final four games in March and the city of Houston generated $300 million in one weekend because of basketball. The NFL generates billions of dollars every year to the US economy. The NFL and the NBA are both privately owned sports enterprises. It is unfortunate that in Africa and in particular Nigeria, we have never been able to tap into the huge potential of sports. In my opinion, the issue is mostly perception of sports as a viable business enterprise… the belittling of the participants’ status in society and the categorisation as a social responsibility programme. Africa has the richest sports talent of any continent, yet our talents go to other continents to play in their leagues to become rich, we spend millions of dollars to buy merchandise from those countries to make them richer, when we can create the same opportunity here in Africa.

There has to be privatisation of sports for Africa to reach its potential in the industry, sports has to be seen as a viable business and there has to be equity representation for this to work. ABL provides a litmus test for everyone. We are where the music and entertainment industry was 20 years ago and our hope is to gradually change the narrative for generations to come.

As A Nigerian, Do You Think You Can Be Impartial When It Comes To Nigerian Teams Playing In The ABL?

The whole target is to raise talents and improve the economy of Africa. The ABL has an image to protect and any irregularities from the aspect of officiating are capable of jeopardising the exercise.

The Matches Are Played At The Landmark Event Centre, Are You Planning To Spread To Other Venues In The Future?
We have been talking to a private construction firm. In the nearest future, the ABL will build its own stadium to host games in Nigeria and across Africa.

Right Now, The ABL Is All About Men, Will The Women Be Included In The Future?

The management has started planning to launch the Women African Basketball League. We are on course to also give African ladies the opportunity to discover their potential in Basketball.

How Much Of Government Support Does The ABL Get?

The Nigerian economy and society needs any positive help it can get in this difficult economic climate. The mantra for change is not a miracle; it starts with each and every one of us … our contribution to our country. The ABL has added another chapter to entertainment in Lagos and has added value economically in just a few months of existence.

The Minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung, and the Lagos State government’s representatives in sports, Deji Tinubu, are all progressives and from what I see they want to make positive changes. But change takes time and it is very hard to turn around the status quo because people will be afraid of what they don’t understand and may revolt.

What Is Your Take On Olumide Oyedeji’s Comments On The ABL?

I have a lot of respect for Olumide Oyedeji; he has been an integral part of basketball in Nigeria for a very long time. His contributions through his foundation and fervour have earned him a hall of fame status in Africa in my opinion and I think he means well. But at the end of the day I know, as a former player, Olumide is very proud of what we have achieved so far, because the ABL is not about my partners or me. It is what we all have been dreaming for years that have been brought to reality so regardless of what side he is on; I know he is very proud. He mentioned that he was concerned about Nigeria and ABL. Our main concern should be the growth of the industry, people and value to the society.

If we organically grow the industry we will not need to assemble a national team without one local player to represent us in international competitions. What happens after that? What sustainable value have we created? We have to weigh the two sides and reach a compromise that is in the best interest of Nigeria.

How Many Teams Are In The League?

Six teams, Lagos Islanders, Abidjan Ramblers, Lagos Warriors,  Dakar Rapids, Libreville Izobe and Lagos Stallions. In the nearest future, more teams from across Africa will join the league.

Is This A Lagos Affair? Why Are There No Teams From Other Parts Of The Country?

The Lagos State government has provided a sports environment for the ABL to be successful. Our goal is to attract privately owned franchises in different countries and states. It is very important for us that our partners have equity representation in the business because that is the only way a business can grow. We are not limited by geography or any categorisation, but by people that want to invest in the league privately. There are some states-owned franchises that if they get privatized will be a gold mine. Lagos Islanders and Lagos Warriors are privately owned and Lagos State still gets the full benefit from a PR and economic standpoint, while only providing institutionalized platforms for the teams to succeed.

Where Do You See The ABL In The Next Two Years?

Our plan is to organically grow the game of basketball here in Africa and not just as sport but to capture the whole ecosystem that comes with sports, entertainment and lifestyle as a facilitator of economic growth. We want to position our games as a social environment opportunity for families and young adults. The strategic plan we have for arena and infrastructure development across Africa will largely add to real estate value, among others. The opportunity, potential and future are tremendous for our sponsors, our fans and us.

How Many Games Have Been Played In The League So Far?

So far, we have played 12 games in our regular season.