The Billion Dollar Businesses of African Sports

Team sports are continent-based, while individual sports are worldwide.

Here’s what I mean…

Individual sports like tennis and golf can operate on a global scale with 1-2 governing bodies — think PGA Tour/LIV in golf and ATP/WTA in tennis.

Team sports like basketball and soccer are best served with continental leagues — think NBA & MLS in North America and Euro & Champions League in Europe.

Top Professional Sports Leagues by Revenue

However, the African continent has been slow to embrace its own leagues, despite an array of talented team-sport athletes:

  • Sadio Mané
  • Serge Ibaka
  • Joel Embiid
  • Pascal Siakam
  • Mohamed Salah
  • Emmanuel Ogbah
  • Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

But things are looking brighter…

In just the last year, we’ve got the formation of NFL camps in Africa and a new Super League in soccer.

The globalization of sports is real (and is still in its early innings).

Africa has massive potential.

Let’s Dive In 👇

Football (not fútbol) in Africa

Africa has 1.4 billion people but it is still a largely untapped resource for athletic talent.

There are over 100 current NFL players of recent African descent, but nearly all of them were born in the United States.

So why’s this matter?

Earlier this summer, the NFL hosted 49 athletes aged 16-22 at its inaugural Africa Camp in the country of Ghana.

NFL Africa camp

What’s wild…

Most of them learned football on YouTube and are now joining the NFL’s international pipeline.

Players aged 16–19 have the opportunity to join the NFL Academy in London, which launched in 2019 to teach and train players with the goal of securing college scholarships.

Athletes aged 20-24 are granted the chance to join the International Player Pathway Program, which helps them prepare for an NFL pro day.

Philadelphia Eagles star tackle Jordan Mailata was in the inaugural program and just last year signed a $64M contract.

So how did all of this get started?

In 2021, former New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora (who was born in London to Nigerian parents) launched a program in Nigeria called “The Uprise” to teach youngsters football and possibly make a career of it.

Three of these players have already signed with NFL teams.

The African Super League (soccer)

If you look at European soccer, you have an array of country-based leagues such as LaLiga (Spain), Ligue 1 (France), Serie A (Italy), Bundesliga (Germany), and the Premier League (England).

Tying them together is the Champions League — where the top club teams from all of Europe compete for a championship.

Africa doesn’t have the athletic infrastructure of Europe, but has recently released a new league itself.

And it’s pretty interesting…

The Super League.

African Super League soccer

Here are some of the details:

  • 24 teams make up the group stage (2-3 from 12 countries)
  • each team receives $2.5 million
  • winner pockets $11.6 million from a pot of $100 million prize money
  • an almost tenfold increase on the prize money currently distributed among the 64 participants in the CAF Champions League.

Africa’s current domestic leagues don’t have the revenue-generating models to compete with other areas of the world game.

The Super League — could prompt investors, sponsors, and broadcasters to plow money into the continental game like never before.

The ultimate question…

“Where is this money coming from?”

Is it coming from Saudi Arabia? China? The US?

No one really knows (but I’m sure we’ll find out in due time).

Going Forward: African Sports Business

The NBA has had great success in Africa — built a youth academy and co-operates a 12-team pro league.

It’s clear the NFL is trying to replicate this model.

NBA Africa is already valued at nearly $1 billion, and the pipeline has produced gems like Joel Embiid and Pascal Siakam, both from Cameroon.

nba africa

20 NBA players with ties to Africa have been drafted since 2020.

Basketball is a much more global sport than American football, so it could take longer for the NFL to see similar results (if any at all).

The NFL’s Africa efforts are part of a larger strategy to expand the league’s global presence:

  • 5 international games in three different countries.
  • goal of adding 50 million new consumers over the next decade

The NFL is making a strong push to increase its international appeal like the NBA.

And soccer…

The Super League is an attempt to keep some of its talented players in the continent.

Sports are truly global (with tons of growth potential still untapped).

As traditional leagues and current teams become inflated in value — look for alternative sports (pickleball), new leagues (LIV Golf), and new continents (Africa) to receive plenty of investment.

We’re just getting started…

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