With 3.5 billion fans worldwide and 250 million players across 200 countries around the world, soccer is a game that is big on community and lifestyle. It is therefore no surprise that Henry Koko founded HIVE Leagues, a sports and recreation organization for everyday people. As members of the International Socca Federation and managers of Socca Naija, they have organized over a thousand games and participated in international games such as the 2019 Socca World Cup in Greece.
In this exclusive interview, he shared the story of how the journey began, why they are excited about partnering with Changera and the future of the league.
Changera: Why did you build a company like HIVE League?
Henry: Over the years, I have engaged in sports for my own pleasure. Like most boys my age, I first got into sports for enjoyment, not necessarily for fitness. It became evident that participating in sports on a regular basis had health advantages. During my journey, I just so happened to develop into a guy who would plan events and bring people together informally.
I was in charge of a committee for my hall of residence while I was pursuing my master’s degree abroad, so that’s where the organizational aspect came in. In 2019, I made the decision to formalize and establish a company centered on planning sports and leisure activities for regular people. We registered the company and sought affiliation in order to increase our credibility and have bigger competitions to look forward to. Since then we have been organizing leagues in Lagos, Abuja, and Ilorin. We have since been setting up leagues in Lagos, Abuja, and Ilorin. We are looking to expand across the country.
Changera: How receptive are people towards the idea behind the Hives league?
Henry: Huge response, but I won’t say I’m surprised. Physical activity and entertainment are somewhat ingrained in our DNA as humans. Our events have received tremendous support because many people are looking to use them as a launching pad for sports careers. It has been made a little easier to distribute this product by having excellent partners, such as Changera, who are sponsoring this season. In order to put on a great event, we need funding, which helps us overcome obstacles like cost. The platform also helps people gain visibility, so it enables regular people to participate to some extent and take advantage of the regular playing, competition, interaction, and health benefits.
Changera: Why specifically is football a male dominated field?
Henry:To me, it comes down to the women not being receptive to the movement. It’s receiving more attention globally, young girls are starting to show an interest in sports, and football associations are treating it with a little more seriousness. Funding is also crucial, and more money needs to be allocated in that direction.
I’ll quickly add that there has been some interest in Hives League from women over the years, though not a lot. We want to organize a women’s event, but we never seem to have enough participants or interest to reach the threshold where we can organize something. I appreciate you bringing that up; I’m confident we can look into it further. It could be one game where we will get a bunch of ladies to come showcase themselves and their talent.
Changera: Why did you choose Changera to partner with?
Henry: I will say two things, we are still young in terms of how much reputation we have. We continue to improve and grow every single day. In general we were looking for the right fit because not all money is good money for us. For instance betting companies are typically the biggest spenders of money in Nigeria as far as we know. However, on a personal level I struggled a little bit with endorsing their support and that of a tobacco company because my values don’t align with it.
When I was introduced to Changera by someone who had played in one of our leagues, I reviewed Changera’s profile and financial capacity. To me this is a great fit as we can definitely support each other to meet our goals. Also meeting the COO and Ruth was just great energy. I’m so glad the partnership happened.
Changera: What has been the difference that Changera brings to the table that has influenced the quality of the event?
Henry: The difference is innumerable. One for sure is, having Changera on board allowed us to let in a good number of people that couldn’t really afford what it would take to be in an event or tournament of this kind.Changera helped us subsidize entry. That’s how we were able to get people from all aspects of society to participate in the Changera Socca League.
We’re able to make sure that the players are all kitted up nicely and it makes them feel more professional. And of course, reputation wise, this collaboration looks good on both partners. It has allowed us to operate the league at a much better level than we have done before.
Changera: So how has the fusion been between these two companies and how would you rate the collaboration?
Henry: I’ll rate it a10 because there is value to be gotten by each entity. Each partner has a responsibility to uphold in organizing the Changera Socca League. Though the league is still ongoing, Changera has fulfilled their own part of the bargain by constantly supporting. More importantly, we are able to get access to the Changera team. We have had several clarity and strategic sessions. Changera isn’t a silent partner as I have seen Ebovi the SVP attend several games. It’s in the works to make the final matches a much bigger event. We’re going to add a lot of lifestyle and entertainment components in Changera Socca League final match to bring in bigger crowds before the season ends. Changera has been involved in it all.
Changera: How do you get players to sign up for tournaments? Do you scout them or do they come as already made teams?
Henry: I love this question. When we have a new season about to start, we advertise and put it out on all our platforms. Because we’ve already built a community and history around these games, people start showing interest even before we advertise. It’s beyond Lagos, like I said, we’ve made our marks in other places. For example, we’ve got people sending us clips of themselves playing and asking us to come to their cities. But anyway, we can’t lack for players. We do something like a trial or a draft, a very easy process, because we’re more about your character than your skill. So we don’t necessarily reject players who are looking for a community. Truth is that if you try hard enough, you can actually get better at anything. Some come as teams, many come as individuals and we break them into teams. We let them choose their names, we just make sure that it’s appropriate or politically correct. Right now we have a team that is made up of medical practitioners in the Changera Socca League. Their name is Roadrunners. Ultimately, I became friends with a few of them over time. We also have artists, musicians, entertainers in teams. Football agents are also amongst us. It’s just a good community.
Changera: How does it make you feel to see youths from different walks of life turn up as lovers of football?
Henry: I feel really good to be able to do this. It makes me aspire to do more with my team. We’re working on spreading our tentacles to other places. Lagos is somewhat saturated when it comes to events. We all know virtually everything is here first, but there are places that have been defined as hinterlands. With the advent of the smartphone and internet, others can see what’s happening and want to replicate it in their states. I’m hoping that we will get even more synergy around that with Changera and a host of other businesses and companies that will want to come on board. It’s a thing of joy, to be honest, to be able to get people together to do what they love and enjoy.
Changera: What’s next for the leagues
Henry: We’ve designed the league to be twice a year. We hope before the end of the year we’ll have another Changera Socca League. We’re also looking to draft new players for the new seasons. There’s a small passion coming from Ilorin as well. Then there’s the big one with the international Socca Federation where we draw the Socca tag for the Socca league which is a trademarked name. We are the sole license holders for Nigeria. We manage the Nigerian national team that goes to play in the Socca league World Cup. So the benefit of being one of our players is that you could actually get selected to represent at the World Cup.
We are actually going to the World Cup in Budapest, Hungary this September and so we’re working all around that, of course we have money needs in order to make it happen and to be able to get the players out there. In 2019 when we went to Greece, the ISF was always keen to set up events in picturesque locations because it’s kind of a mixture of football and a holiday. The first edition in 2018 was in Portugal and Greece in 2019, but due to covid we had to postpone and change the destination to Budapest this september.
This international affiliation gives the Hives League a bit more power. So Changera being our partner in some ways are partners of the ISF because we are making the vision come together, which is basically allowing lots of people play soccer around the world.