NFL expands more into Africa for market and talent hunt

The NFL’s Global Markets Program expansion into Ghana and now Nigeria suggests the US sports league is now seeing the continent as a market for its sports offering.

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The NFL is ramping up initiatives and programs in Africa in a bid not only to tap into the continent’s rich talent pool but also to secure a slice of Africa’s growing sports market.

According to Peter O’Reilly, executive vice president, of club business, major events and international markets at the NFL, the expansion of the program is necessary because clubs are seeing the value and opportunity in new markets.

“We can’t wait to see the ongoing impact of the program on fandom and global growth in this season and years ahead, both in new and existing markets and via new clubs joining and active clubs deepening their strategic commitments,” he explained in a statement on Monday, March 25.

The league has expanded its Global Markets Program, adding four new clubs and five new markets in 2024. Nigeria is listed as one of the new markets of focus, with rights to the West African country awarded to the Cleveland Browns, a professional American football team based in Cleveland.

The Global Markets Programme was launched in 2022 to facilitate the allocation of market rights to NFL stakeholder units in order to market and popularize themselves in specific international markets outside of the USA.

The Cleveland Browns, also known as ‘The Browns’, is one of the five teams granted marketing rights and the team is debuting its marketing mission in Nigeria as the first-ever NFL team to undertake extensive NFL initiatives in the country.

The Browns join the Philadelphia Eagles, which have owned similar marketing rights in Ghana since 2022, in the NFL’s foray into Africa. In total, 25 teams are taking part in the program, across 19 international markets.

The Cleveland Browns are expected to initiate fan engagement programs, community events and commercial partnerships to increase their fandom and commercial success.

While strategically positioned to popularise the clubs and the broader sport on the continent, the spillover benefits of such a program are vast, including tapping talent.

In Ghana, for instance, The Philadelphia Eagles organized an activation during the Super Bowl 2023, including a watch party and on-ground activations reaching more than 350 Ghanaians, fostering interest in the Eagles franchise.

In a recent podcast interview on ‘Inside Interviews’, Jen Kavanagh, the Senior Vice President of Marketing for the Eagles, explained that “the focus is on long-term fan development, setting the stage for future opportunities.”

Notably, African talent forms a huge and critical part of the NFL structure, with players from the continent playing across different clubs and more being spotted in the NFL Academy as they develop their skills waiting to take over spots in the league.

There are about 30 players from 9 African countries playing in the top-tier league.

With 19 players, Nigeria has supplied the highest number of these players. Others include; Cameroon (2), Ghana (1), Guinea (1), Ivory Coast (1), Liberia (1), South Africa (2), The Gambia (1), and Zimbabwe (1).

Beyond the 32 league teams, NFL data shows there are way over 125 players (born in Africa or first generation born in the U.S.) from 15 countries across the continent who currently play in the NFL.

In the NFL Academy, Senegalese offensive linemen Pape Abdoulaye Sy, Egyptian Yahaya Attia, Clinton Azubuike, and his fellow countrymen Benson Jerry, Ewole Thompson, and Sunday Samuel, all from Nigeria, are undergoing training and could join professional clubs in the future.

It is this consistent supply of talent that has pushed the league to prioritize the continent in its strategic development plans. The International Player Pathway, a program that aims to provide elite athletes with an opportunity to earn a spot on the NFL roster, recently announced 11 athletes who will join the Class of 2024. Three of them are Nigerians.

The league is also scouting for talent beyond West Africa. Last year, for instance, the NFL’s “NFL Africa” program expanded to Kenya, hosting the inaugural talent identification camp and an NFL Flag football showcase in Nairobi. 29 prospects, aged 16–21, from Cameroon, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, and Senegal, took part in the program.

With commercial success being a part of the expansion in Ghana and Nigeria under the Global Markets Program, the NFL is showing interest in tapping into the continent’s sports market valued at US$512 billion in 2023, according to the Sports Global Market Report 2023.

The continent’s sports market is expected to grow at a rate of 8% over the next 3–5 years, according to PwC’s Global Sports Survey 2023.

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