The business of sports broadcasting in Africa is about to undergo

Senegalese wrestling champ.
Demba Membede
Africa’s Sporting Chance
By Bob Jenkins
Despite a reach of 100 million TV homes,
a glut of channels and a pool of
internationally renowned athletes, the
market for sports programming in Africa
remains complex and relatively
untapped. At the heart of this paradox is
the dominance of sports rights and
broadcasting by a relatively small
number of pay TV platforms –
approximately 50 in Africa compared to
the continent’s 2,000 free-to-air and
satellite channels and a growing number
of DTT channels. Yet there are few
dedicated sports channels, and almost
all of those can be found on pay TV.
The business of sports broadcasting in Africa is about to undergo
radical changes that promise to unleash explosive potential.
To coincide with the DISCOPRO Workshop, “Homegrown Sports
Content,” taking place during DISCOP Africa 2014, Disbook
examines the findings of a major report entitled “The African
Sports TV Market,”(*) compiled by leading research house
Balancing Act, and looks into the future of this dynamic sector.
To date, the production of home-grown
sports programming has been very
limited, although, there are signs that
this is about to change, and it is a key
focus for Sports News Africa, a new
company run by former SuperSport
head Gary Rathbone. The timing for this
move could be perfect as there is
growing evidence that a considerable
percentage of the African television
audience wants to watch local sports
and the report “The African Sports TV
Market” finds there is a growing global
interest in quality sports TV from Africa.
The report also found that “over the
past 10 years, there has been a huge
gap between the expensive sports’
premium content rights offer and what
African TV buyers can afford”.
The effect of this imbalance has been
exacerbated by a number of other
factors such as the lack of regular and
detailed audience measurement in
most African countries. It’s something
that has greatly inhibited the ability of
FTA channels to attract advertising and
sponsorship, and which contributes to
a lack of understanding of the supply
side of sports events by many of the
FTA broadcasters. The result is an
inability to attract events of significant
caliber and interest to local audiences.
Still, the report is confident this is
about to change for the following
(*) “The African Sports TV Market” is a 2014 extensive study of the supply and demand dynamics of
the market, by Balancing Act. For details:
Didier Drogba playing for the Ivory Coast team in
the final of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations
Africa’s Sporting Chance
“the African Middle
class will
fuel a rise in sports
“largely depend on the attitude of all
the key stakeholders involved in the
value and supply chains of sports
content distribution, sports
development and sports broadcasting,
including both international and African
federations, other rights holders,
broadcasters and, to some extent,
sponsors and other partners”.
- As economic conditions, TV
Advertising and content distribution
revenues grow across the continent,
the sports TV rights market will
also grow.
- The Free To Air sports TV market in
sub-Saharan Africa (worth US$ 400
million in 2013) will grow by 60% over
the coming fifteen years to reach a total
value of US$1 billion ;
- The transition to national DTT in Africa
will lead to more local sports
These predictions are exciting. But they
also beg the question “how are we going
to get from the current state of affairs to
this happy Nirvana?” To answer that
questions DISBOOK spoke to Themba
Ndlwana, one of the authors of the
report “The African Sports TV Market”.
“For sure”, asserts Ndlwana, “the
demand for sport on television in
sub-Saharan Africa will increase,
and, when that happens, it is obvious
that opportunities will open up for
new sports to enter the television
market”. Ndlwana’s certainty of the
positive future for televised sport in the
region is based, primarily, on the rise of
the African Middle class, which he
asserts, “will be one of the major drivers
fuelling a rise in sports consumption by
the African television audience, and
which will surely give rise to a
broadening of the spectrum of sports
Ndlwana’s confidence in the coming
rise of the African middle class seems
well placed. Research by the respected
management firm McKinsey, predicts
that, by 2020, 128 million Africans will
have an annual disposable income in
excess of US$ 5,000 and that 52%
of all Africans will have a disposable
income of some sort. However, Ndlwana
has a warning for those eyeing this
enticing future. “Exactly how this will
play out, and which sports will come
through and benefit will”, he cautions,
“In some parts
of Africa basketball
definitely rivals
soccer in popularity”
The danger, as Ndlwana sees it, is that,
“federations and other rights holders
will seek to use soccer as the
benchmark for pricing rights to their
events. If they do this, they will likely kill
off the opportunity before it has fully
developed”. He goes on to explain, “the
reason for this is that soccer is
Gorgui Dieng (Senegal) during
Croatia v Senegal, 2014 FIBA
Basketball World cup, Sevilla
currently so dominant a sport on
African television it commands an
artificially high price. In addition”, he
continues, “it is important to remember
that, dominant though soccer is, the
market for it in Africa is currently very
far being saturated. Most broadcasters
are currently priced out of the very top
soccer competitions, such as The
Champions League and the EPL, and, to
a certain extent, Spain’s La Liga. But
competitions such as Serie A and the
Bundeslegia are not as widely
broadcast and do have scope to
increase their market penetration. So,”
he continues, “for sports wishing to
enter the African market, it is very
important that those charged with
marketing the rights take a long view
and look to work with broadcasters and
other partners to build their brand,
rather than just looking at the bottom
line and seeking to make as much
money as they can, as quickly as they
can. The future,” he concludes, “will
definitely be a case of long-term
development versus immediate bottom
Despite these cautionary words,
Ndlwana remains confident that, “there
will certainly be an opportunity in the
immediate future for new sports to
enter the sub-Saharan broadcast
market. And this opportunity will,
undoubtedly, be driven by the
emergence of the new
African middle class”.
Ndlwana’s belief that this
will be the case is based
upon more than the
predicted increase in
demand for, and
consumption of, televised
sport; he also believes it
will change the nature of
sports participation in
sub-Saharan Africa.
His reasoning is this:
“The African middleclass”, he asserts, “will,
because of their sizeable
disposable income, be
able to participate in
sports requiring
investment on the part of
participants; sports like
— DISBOOK #4 | 2014
Our audiences demand sport; but
we haven’t the financial muscle to
compete with the rights fees Pay
can afford, and so we do the best we
can, but struggle to make a profit.
What we need is a coming together
of interested parties. FTA channels
across Africa could come together
and negotiate as a single entity.
The current situation in which all
broadcasters act individually drives
rights costs up, and sponsorship
revenues down. Collectively, we have
the advantage of a mass audience.
Holger Sircoulomb
General Manager at One Africa TV, Namibia
The two most popular sports in Namibia are soccer and boxing. But they also attract large
license fees, which make it very difficult to liquidate the cost of sports coverage with the
available advertising revenue - and so, recently, One Africa has been reducing its carriage
of sports programming – despite the audience demand. It might be possible to promote
other local sports, but it would require significant investment to promote awareness
of the sport and local sports personalities. Sports broadcasting in Africa will continue
to be dominated by Pay TV because of their ability to offer a large variety of sports.
For decades the television broadcast
of sport in Africa has been a cosy little
party for a select few – whether those
few be broadcasters, federations and
rights holders, or the tiny minority of
Africans able to afford to watch a sport
in which they have even the remotest
interest. It is clear that all that is going
to change very quickly and that this
change will generate opportunities that
are exciting for all.
And what is true of Basketball is also
true of many other sports – wrestling in
West Africa, motor sports in East Africa
and rugby and cricket in Southern
states are just a few of the new kids
on the block eager for their big break.
A focus on these newly emerging sports
will be a key element of the recently
launched Sports News Africa. Producer
Gary Rathbone’s sincerity in this matter
is beyond doubt. Prior to launching his
new series, he worked with Kenyan
triple play operator Zuku to establish
a University Basket Ball league.
Although Rathbone is no longer
involved, the league had a highly
successful first year in 2013 and is
But 2015 is scheduled as a year of
significant change in sub-Saharan
broadcasting. It is the deadline, albeit a
deadline that many regional countries
will miss, imposed by the International
Telecommunications Union for the
switch to digital. When that happens,
whenever that might finally be,
If that seems like a “no-brainer”,
Ndlwana sees another such that also
augers well for the future of sport on
African screens. “All of this”, he insists,
“is a win-win for advertisers and
sponsors because as the broadcast
market for sports diversifies, it is
creating a new consumer base of the
very people advertisers are so keen to
reach – giving them an effective new
tool with which to reach a very desirable
new consumer base”.
The problem is money – or the lack of
it! Very few people are able to afford a
Pay TV subscription. This is why we
show only amateur sports. Another
problem is the poor management.
This combination of lack of money,
poor administration and amateur
sports makes it almost impossible to
attract interest from advertisers and
sponsors. If sport other than soccer
is to flourish then those sports need
airtime and, if soccer really is ‘the
beautiful game’ then that beauty
needs to be shared with other sports,
and people need to be educated to
enjoy and want to play other sports.
Channel Manager
at AIT International, Nigeria
Ndlwana sees other factors as also
positively impacting the future of sports
broadcast in Africa. As we saw earlier
there are, currently, relatively very few
niche sports channels and almost all of
those that do exist are on Pay TV
platforms - only reaching approximately
10% of all African households.
Ndlwana is confident that “the arrival
of DTT will see the emergence of many
new niche channels, some dedicated
to sport. These new sports channels
will”, he observes, “need content and
this content will be in the form of newly
broadcast sports”.
Innocent Emokhor,
tennis and golf requiring investment in
infrastructure, maintenance of that
infrastructure and personal equipment
such as rackets and clubs in order to
create and maintain suitable
environments for the sport and
facilitate participation. The African
middle class will seek to differentiate
itself by involvement in sports such as
these. This rise in participation levels
will also enhance the potential
television audience for such sports,
thereby creating a virtuous circle of
participation and viewership”.
From Telesports, Togo
“The transition
to national
DTT will lead
to more
local sports
currently administered and promoted
by Mike Finley, managing director of
Miles and Associates, who is adamant
that, “FTAs are certainly missing out by
not covering hugely popular sports such
as basketball. In some parts of Africa
sports such as basketball definitely
rival soccer in popularity and”, he
reveals in a possible harbinger of what
is to come as well as the present
difficulties faced, “we have already
expanded the Kenyan league into
Uganda and are looking to expand into
more Africa nations in the future. Our
real aim is to get these leagues onto
FTA channels, but it is a chicken and
egg situation, as many of these
broadcasters need to be convinced
that these leagues will work for their
audiences, and, of course, that can’t
happen if they don’t take the plunge
and air them. But” he insists, “we are
confident that, if they do take that
plunge the games would prove very
popular and would quickly produce a
virtuous circle in which the games’
popularity would grow the popularity of
the sport which would, in turn, feed the
demand for more games from the FTA
Ules Assima
Advertisers and sponsors account for 100% of broadcasters’s
income for televised sports. About the 10 most valuable are:
Source: Balancing Act, “The African Sports TV Market”, 2014
Africa’s Sporting Chance
Gary Rathbone and Damien Naughton want
everyone talking about African sports
Explaining the impetus that lead to the formation of Sports
News Network, Rathbone insists, “the first thing that needs
to be appreciated about African sports broadcasting is that
the vast majority of African sports fans are watching Free To
Air broadcasters because they can’t afford Pay TV. But, as the
majority of major events are on Pay TV this means that there
is a massive fan base with a huge appetite for sport that is
not being serviced, because FTA services cannot compete
with the financial muscle of Pay TV”.
But Rathbone and Naughton won’t be bidding mega bucks for
major events. They have an entirely different strategy
planned. Rathbone explains: “Televised sport works on two
levels – live events and conversations about live events. The
rights to the events themselves are prohibitively expensive,
but conversation is free and that’s what we’re going to provide
– a platform to engage with audiences all around Africa in
conversation about their favourite sporting events”.
The difference between international sports magazine shows
and Sports News Africa is that it will focus on topics that
appeal to, and resonate with an African audience. “We will”,
Rathbone continues, “achieve this in two ways. Firstly, we will
look at international sport from an African perspective.
Secondly, we will be looking to raise the awareness of sport in
Africa – to raise the profile of African sports events and
athletes and raise them to the same level as international
sporting events”.
Naughton makes clear that, “We will be able to offer
advertisers a genuinely mass market, because we will be on
FTA and that’s where the mass market is. It’s great for an
advertiser to be associated with the coverage of a major,
prestigious, event. But, if that coverage is on Pay TV, then the
number of eyeballs making that association is very, very
small. Not only are we going to offer advertisers a much
larger audience, but also a show that lasts a lot longer than
the 90 minutes or so of the event itself – in fact for days both
before and after the event. And lastly”, concludes Naughton,
“we are, and always will be, very flexible with our business
models – we are very happy to work with advertisers,
federations and broadcasters in any way that makes sense
for all concerned”.
Producing the half-hour show six days a week from a single
production hub in London adds a whole new dimension to
the quality. Rathbone explains that “it gives us both, a much
better access to major names and also a much broader range
of well known sports personalities than would be possible
with a show produced in Africa by a local broadcaster. When
this is allied to input from the extensive network of local
stringers we have put together as well as footage we can,
and will be, buying in, SNA will have a deeper, more rounded
and varied offering than will be available from any other
source in the market”.
Producing the show from a hub in London also means that
they will be able to tailor editions to the specific needs of
individual broadcasters or advertisers. For instance, they will
be able to be on several different FTAs in the same market
- reinforcing the original positioning about the valuable size
of market to offer to advertisers.
About local sports, African events and athletes, Rathbone
underlines that, “Many, if not all, African FTAs have taken the
attitude, ‘well, if we can’t have the Champion’s League or the
EPL, then we might as well not bother with sport’ – and that’s
a nonsense. It is a nonsense that ignores the huge potential
of local sport that exists on their doorstep”. Expanding on his
thesis Rathbone points to basketball, which, he says, “is
huge in Africa. In many countries it is probably second only
to soccer in popularity. Major games can attract crowds
of five or six thousand, and yet no one is covering it. And”,
he continues, “the same is true of motor sports in East Africa,
and there are many other examples”. Rathbone has no doubt
that, if SNA can build a television audience for these sports,
then, once broadcasters see how well they work, they will
want to start covering live events.
Sports News Africa isn’t the only program the company
is producing, either. Production has commenced on
“The Conversation,” a half-hour show, produced three
times a week, previewing and reviewing the key sporting
events of the week. As always, it will be told from an
African perspective.