Is satellite television killing African football, or on the brink of creating better sponsorship opportunities for marketers? This is one of the questions arising from a recent investigation by BBC Sport into the state of African football.
The answer appears to be a bit of both. In some cases, the involvement of South African-based DSTV and its SuperSport bouquet of channels have helped leagues to prosper and attract increased sponsorship – as in the case of Kenya.
In other instances – like Zambia and Nigeria – the BBC report says the beneficial impact has been questionable.
The arrival of high quality satellite TV in virtually all African countries means that the world’s best players, clubs and leagues are on display week in and week out.
Consumers in a bar in downtown Lagos can just as easily watch Manchester United versus Real Madrid as two mid-table teams battling it out in the local league.
In many cases, they prefer the former, resulting in dwindling local crowds and disaffected sponsors. In some countries, local games are now scheduled so that kick-off times do not clash with major European games.
But that’s not the case everywhere. In Kenya, crowds and sponsorship are on the up, partly because the league has been reorganised on a far more professional basis as a result of the SuperSport involvement and payment of broadcasting fees, the BBC report says.
It quotes Gary Rathbone, the former head of Africa for SuperSport, as saying that “league sponsorship has increased from zero to something quite substantial.”
A survey subsequently revealed that the Advertising Value Equivalent of sponsorship for the Kenyan league (known as the KPL) was a remarkable US$86-million.
“That’s what happens when you get behind the league and broadcast it and organise it properly,” Rathbone told the BBC.
“The first season we covered the KPL, you were getting a few hundred people for normal games and a few thousand for the big games. Last year, crowds were in their thousand for normal games and 25 000 for the big games.”
In the countries where the leagues are not enjoying the commercial and popular success that Kenya is achieving, the soccer product needs to be urgently improved.
“To succeed, leagues have to become businesses, but very few have grasped this yet,” Rathbone told the BBC.
“The also need to explore other forms of revenue – like advertising and merchandising.”
When they do, a new range of sponsorship opportunities and consumer engagement will be open to Africa’s marketers.