African Football Factory seeks to open up the broadcast sports space beyond the boundaries of the big players

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There is a growing interest globally among broadcasters for African sports and for African football in particular. Last week Sylvain Béletre of Balancing Act interviewed the two directors of African Football Factory, Olivier Monlouis and Gabriel Bartolini, about how they are planning to open up the broadcast sports space.

Launched three years ago, African Football Factory is a marketing agency specializing in African sports. Located in Paris, the agency has supported several events, brands, broadcasters, agencies and sports clubs to make sure that African sports get more resources and visibility. The company currently holds broadcast sponsorship rights for the football event, the African Women’s Cup (‘Coupe d’Afrique des Féminines’ in French) and is selling this to corporates and broadcasters.

Q: What is the current state of African football?

A : African football continues to grow. Since 1990 African teams have performed well in the World Cup. They also won two Olympic titles and several U17 world titles. The Mazembé team of the Democratic Republic of Congo has risen to the final of the World Club Cup against Inter Milan in 2010. African footballers play in the most prestigious clubs in the world. The arrival of Samuel Eto'o in the Chinese professional league and the imminent arrival of Didier Drogba confirm the value of African footballers who have become marketing icons of global dimensions.

Many experts agree that in terms of training, Africa has the best cost ratio. Indeed, despite the limited resources available compared to Europe, the recruitment of players trained in Africa continues to grow. Because African football is involved in the valuation of most attractive professional leagues and because the organization of the 2010 World Cup was awarded to South Africa, we can say that African football is finding its place in the global sports economy.
African football is a very effective means of communication for Africa because the passion devoted by African football fans is not a recent phenomenon, unlike in some other parts of the world. It has a strong popular base, shared by men and women. One of the main strengths of African football is its audience. Africans are avid consumers of sport beyond the continent. The African diaspora in Europe or North America is very keen on football and reflect the increasing interest of consumers around the world football's flagship competition for African football, the African Cup of Nations (CAN).
We believe that African football has great potential because as an audiovisual genre it generates an audience and therefore a lot of visibility. African football must be more active for company brands and this is how the federations and clubs will reach the necessary funds to make this sport sustainable in the long run.
Q : How is broadcast football content in Africa developing?

A : In recent years, TV audience records in Africa have been achieved with football matches. The 2010 World Cup, the African Cup of Nations (CAN) or the Champions League have driven the largest audiences. But outside of world or continental events the main football supply essentially comes from broadcast by private Free To Air and pay TV channels.

As elsewhere in the world, football is a unifying content. Unfortunately, many African broadcasters, including public broadcasters have the greatest difficulty in funding this type of content. Cost inflation of broadcasting rights has not helped matters. Overall, the most prestigious competitions are difficult to access and African broadcasters fail to generate enough advertising revenue to be able to make reasonable offers.

For many sports rights holders, few African broadcasters appear ‘interesting’. With the exception of large broadcasters located in South Africa and North Africa, too few channels are able to make serious offers to purchase. If one can observe a development of broadcast content, it is mainly the result of the largest private pay TV channels.
Q : Is African football easy to access and watch across Africa?

A : With the exception of male CAN that enjoys a high media and marketing exposure, local competitions crucially lack visibility and sponsors. However, this situation is slowly changing. In 2010, marketing and media rights revenue from the CAN reached $ 12 million dollar. Today, a new agreement signed with a sports management agency – sportfive – to provide US$117 million of revenue to CAF until 2017.

 A movement has started and it has resulted in increased valuation of other platforms (competitions) CAF (FAC in French*). Outside the male CAN, the Champions League which sees matches between the best clubs on the continent or the African Nations Championship (CHAN in Fr.), the competition that pits national teams composed of players exclusively in Africa will benefit from increased media exposure.
Unfortunately, these events less known internationally suffer from lack of local broadcast, while there is strong public demand for pan-African competitions. If public broadcasters are struggling to acquire broadcast rights, pan-African private broadcasters have the opportunity to introduce more sports content in their pan-African program schedule and monetize these investments through advertising revenue.

Broadcasters need to take stock of opportunities to use football in order to improve their customer knowledge and touch their audience more effectively. Since 2010 African football has entered a new era in which it has become more than ever an essential marketing tool regardless of fluctuations in sports.
Contrary to what one might expect, there are no minor sports competitions for consumers across Africa. Brands and rights holders have an important role to play in seizing the opportunities offered by Pan-African competitions such as the women CAN and in youth competitions (CANU17 and U21).

We must make them accessible to a wider audience to become an effective marketing tool. In this sense, the organization of Africa CAN 2013 will be featured as a new catalyst. By taking advantage of the expertise acquired in 2010 with the organization of the World Cup, with dedicated sports infrastructures to high quality hotel infrastructure and improved transport on the continent, the CAN is likely to become larger in terms of organization and image.
Q :  What solutions are you offering to sponsors?

A : Given the emotional impact generated by football in Africa, this sport remains the most effective medium for brand whether they wish to gain visibility, improve their reputation or increase sales. Therefore, a communication strategy based around football is proving to be an excellent development tool. From the analysis of the objectives and target of a brand, there are two options for a company which recognizes the value of using sport to better communicate: to sponsor a current sports’ platform – whether it is a competition, a club or an athlète - or to create their own events. The latter option is more suited for brands already using sport as a communication tool who want to target a specific segment rather than the mass market.

Regarding sponsorship opportunities in Africa, it may be noted that several continental competitions are still under-exploited by brands. This is for example the case with the Women African Cup (Coupe d’Afrique des Féminines in French). The women's game turns out to be very popular with consumers of African sports. In terms of audience, the last women World Cup attracted over 26.2 million viewers in Africa and in the Middle East.

If South Africa and Nigeria recorded the highest ratings (respectively 4.2 million and 13 million viewers in cumulated audience), Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Kenya in particular have generated peaks of more than 300 000 viewers. The Women's African Cup of Nations should reveal its full potential in subsequent editions at the end of 2012 taking place in Equatorial Guinea. Furthermore, with an average of 3.42 goals per game (the men’s équivalent gets an average of 2.64 for CAN and 2.44 in the World Cup), the proposed advertising campaign increases exposure of sponsored brands.

Finally and on this occasion, the African Football Factory plans to undertake a broad study of sports consumers across Africa to better understand this target and expectations and to secure further investment assets and potential sponsors in Africa sports.
Q :   What is African football schedule in the short term?

A : Several competitions will take place. Qualifying football matches of CAN 2013 and the 2014 World Cup matches will offer impactful events with the 2012 edition of the CHAN as a strong contributor

Besides these,  Equatorial Guinea will host the 2012 edition of the women CAN, who should benefit from greater exposure due to the growing enthusiasm it generates among the public.

The London Olympic Games will also provide an opportunity for African teams to stand out, both in men and in women categories. Olympic tournaments have succeeded rather well for African teams since 1996. Finally, we should see the club competitions like the CAF’s Champions League as well as youth competitions progress in terms of audience if broadcasters agree to make substantial efforts to attrack trademarks. Overall the upcoming sports schedule is dense enough to set up programming in line with publics’ expectations.

We invite stakeholders - especially companies willing to sponsor African sports - to contact us for further details here:

*The Confederation of African Football (CAF).

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