Dambe Warriors: An internet lesson for Nigerian sport

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Dambe

How did a traditional Hausa sport garner almost 10 million views on YouTube in just a year?

It started when Chidi Anyina, staff of a digital marketing company, stumbled on the traditional boxing art form called dambe, where fighters use one gloved fist to strike at one another while employing the other hand as a shield. This style of boxing has been traced back several centuries with its history tied to ancient Egyptian boxing.

Chidi spoke to his friend Anthony Okeleke about exploiting the medium for its content and growing the sport as a form of entertainment. Perhaps it could become their own WWE or UFC, global brands that have become household names in the wrestling and mixed martial arts industry.

After a period of planning, they launched their YouTube channel called Dambe Warriors in January 2017. At the moment, this channel has acquired more than 33,300 subscribers with views inching near nine million.

Almost 30 percent of the channel’s traffic comes from the United States, fans of martial art forms that are looking for something new and have tuned into Dambe Warriors to enjoy an unscripted, organic sport. Their other top traffic comes from Thailand, Indonesia, India and the Philippines.

While many Nigerian sport forms are struggling to find funding and a consistent followership, Dambe Warriors has carved a niche for itself as an exportable traditional Nigerian sport product.

Through their knowledge of content marketing and digital storytelling, Chidi and Anthony realised that they were sitting on a gold mine, a sport that had never been exploited in terms of content outside the traditional confines of the Hausa travelling fighters and their patrons who organise small community-based competitions during harvest festivals and dole out money to their favourite fighters.

Many of the fighters, professionals in their own right from the caste of butchers, have never seen beyond using the sport to meet their immediate needs, find wives and earn respect from fellow fighters. But they could soon become household names with the exposure that their fights are getting around the world.

When the duo saw the potential in the sport, they set up their company, Lost Child Media, and brought in crews with high definition cameras to the fights after getting to know the patrons and the fight guilds.

They got really close to the patrons and fighters in order to understand how to tell the story of the sport to the world. By understanding the rules, they were able to provide context for their YouTube audience. By getting close, they were able to know the fighters and understand their motivations.

One fighter told them his father married his mother as a prize from winning a fight. He has continued the family tradition by staying in the dambe ring.

I met up with Chidi and Anthony a few weeks ago at the Hubmart in Ikeja. Over some cocktail, they told me about their experience turning the sport into an internet spectacle. I sat wide-eyed as I listened to them share insights into their work, their vision and their ambition.

Suddenly, I could see the opportunity up ahead of them. They have been able to bring more eyes to a traditional Nigerian sport like no other person has done.

They have turned the combat into content for a new kind of fan. By the time they staged their first event in Lekki this month, they had won over several new followers to the sport.

It has brought the realisation that many Nigerian sports and rights holders can grow their following if only they try to understand the modern individuals who constitute the fan base that they are trying to reach.

The modern fan enjoys ‘snackable,’ interesting content that can be viewed on their mobile phones. The aspect of virality is something that needs to be explored by rights owners.

You have access to your sport event, how do you ensure that it is easily accessible to potential fans who did not attend live at the game?

While the shelf life of many events ends at the final whistle, there is room for a larger audience to consume the sport post-event online through YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and sundry other social networks. It is left for sports organisers to put in place a strategy to ensure that the final whistle is not the end of the event because social media can give it new life.

What Chidi and Anthony are doing with Dambe Warriors can be replicated across several other Nigerian sports, elite and traditional, to the same level of success and beyond.

Sports property owners need to use the power of social networks to grow their fan base through strategic content that chimes with their audiences.