#ExtraTime with Tennis SA CEO Richard Glover
The latest instalment of #ExtraTime sees EWN Sport catch up with Tennis South Africa CEO Richard Glover, to talk about the growth of the sport – and about working for Arsenal FC many years.
“I'm probably the worst tennis player in the world”, says Richard Glover, but what he lacks on the court, he certainly makes up for in experience, off it.
When Glover took over as TSA CEO in 2016, he came with a wealth of experience in the sports industry, having worked both locally and internationally.
“I actually studied journalism many, many years ago at Rhodes University. I wanted to be a sports journalist. Then I went on holiday to the UK for two weeks, and I came back 13 years later. So basically, my parents were horrified. I was there for 13 years after just going on holiday. I started doing sports journalism in the UK, but soon realized that I was a pretty average sports journalist, but I wanted to stay in sports. I gradually moved on to the business or commercial side of sports in the UK.”
Glover says he was very fortunate to work at Arsenal football club in the early 2000s. “I spent a number of years at Arsenal and it was right at the time when the club was moving from the old Highbury stadium to the new, brand spanking new Emirates Stadium,” Glover said.
The former Rhodes University student worked on the commercial side at the club for about five years before heading back to South Africa. Upon his return, Glover worked for Cricket South Africa and was involved in setting up a sports marketing agency called Frontiers Sport and Entertainment.
Glover says when the job opportunity with TSA came up, he wasn’t all that keen at the start but was soon convinced after doing some research.
“I think like a lot of South Africans, I had this sort of perception of tennis and I had this negative perception of it. But then it came up again and I looked at some of the data around tennis and I just thought that, well, tennis is never going to be as big as rugby, or cricket or soccer for obvious reasons, I just believe that tennis was a sport with such huge growth potential.”
He went on to say it’s not every day you get the opportunity to help change a sport from the inside out.
“I think I've always wanted to do something within sports federations in South Africa where we could have an impact because I think being involved in the sports marketing agency you get involved in different aspects of sports or clients, but you're always on the periphery, not at the center of things in terms of really steering the direction of a sport forward,” he said.
In the eight years that Glover has been in charge, TSA has managed to secure major sponsors like Growthpoint Properties, BNP Paribas and Kia Motors to name a few to help with the financial aspect of things.
“The financial side is always the biggest challenge because without money you can't really do anything or your options and the programs that you can run are very, very limited. I think we've (TSA) been pretty lucky over the last few years to have brought in a number of sponsors. So, there's a lot of brands that have sort of bought into our vision and I think that they're relatively pleased with how we are starting to progress.”
Although the federation has made impressive strides over the last couple of years, Glover says there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.
Glover explained what they want to achieve. “Our vision is really about growing the sport and making the sport more accessible to more communities in South Africa. And that's not an overnight thing. You can’t press a button and suddenly, there are kids across the country playing tennis, it takes lots of lots of long hours and let's be honest, it takes years to really, it'll take years to really get to where we want in terms of making the sport more accessible,” he said.
Glover says one of the questions he gets asked most often as CEO is, when will the SA Open make its return, but he says the timing is just not right.
“What we need to do now is we need to bring more. What I'd call entry-level international professional tournaments to SA, so that our young up and coming stars can really have that advantage, because the harsh reality is at the moment is, if there was an SA Open and when we talk about SA Open, it’s an ATP or WTA high profile event, how many South Africans would actually play in it? So, our focus has been really about trying to build that pathway from the bottom up in terms of big international Junior tournaments.”
Sports federation worldwide have felt the financial impact of COVID-19 and TSA is no exception.
“I think the reality is that we will probably be set back a year or two financially. But I do worry about the damage to, what I call, our wider tennis ecosystem. I think it's been really severe, and I give one example is tennis coaches.”
Glover explains, “There are hundreds and hundreds of tennis coaches across the country who currently can't earn a living under the current Level Four regulations and some of them are in a very, very tough situation. They have to make some hard decisions in the coming weeks, whether they continue to focus on tennis coaching as their profession, or whether they try and move into something else to try and, you know, survive.”
In terms of working with individual sports stars compared to a team environment, Glover says it’s been fascinating to see the different psyches.
“The psyche within team sports is very different from individual sports and I think the thing that's really impressed me about tennis players is that they're problem solvers. They are mentally very, very tough, and tend to be very intelligent people. I think an individual sport like tennis does develop certain aspects that you don't necessarily get from a team sport.”