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Big Brands and the Beautiful Game [analysis]
[June 19, 2012]

Big Brands and the Beautiful Game [analysis]

(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Football is the world's most popular sport, and its appeal in Africa is growing rapidly. Big brands look to capitalise as they build their reach and reputation.

Football is the world's most popular sport, and that popularity grows all the time. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the first such tournament to be held on the continent, was shown in every country and territory on Earth, including even Antarctica and the Arctic Circle. According to the global sports body FIFA, it generated record-breaking viewing figures in many TV markets, with in-home television coverage reaching over 3.2 billion people around the world, or 46.4 per cent of the global population; an eight per cent rise on the number of viewers recorded during the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Africans are far from passive viewer, since several of its leading players have become stars at the world's leading clubs, many in England's Premier League. In the 2011-12 season, no fewer than 37 Africans were on the playing staff of teams in England's top division.

This growth is excellent news for companies looking to develop their brands within Africa. Alexandra Chalat of Beyond Sport, a global organisation that works to achieve positive social change through sport, believes these companies are taking a more holistic approach to their involvement in the continent than mere direct investment. She points to the work of Michael Porter. In a famous recent article, Porter wrote of "the principle of shared value, which involves creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges. Businesses must reconnect company success with social progress. Shared value is not social responsibility, philanthropy, or even sustainability, but a new way to achieve economic success. It is not on the margin of what companies do but at the centre." Chalat observes a global-local trend. "The majority of companies that invest in sport initiatives - for example, in a soccer programme - are in the financial sector, the majority of them are global, but they sponsor localised projects", she says. This juxtaposition of international businesses working in small communities seems unusual at first glance, but Chalat explains their logic. "Banks are really using corporate social responsibility as a way to grow their business and provide a return on their bottom line", she claims. "Because a massive part of what banks do is reaching into emerging markets and new markets, they're using these sport-for-development programmes as a way to tap into places in Africa that they wouldn't be able to tap into." One example is Spaces for Sport, which Barclays Bank - working with several partners, including the Premier League, Football Foundation South Africa, and the Grootbos Foundation - has directed since 2008 in Gansbaai, in the Western Cape. They funded the construction of a new football facility, situated between three racially segregated communities. The facility, used by around a thousand young people each week, also provides education courses, including qualifications in sports coaching.

Barclays has not always enjoyed the best of reputations in Africa - in the 1970s, it was the subject of a student boycott due to its business with the apartheid regime - but has been keen in recent years to pursue a citizenship strategy, and to help improve the job prospects of participants in its schemes."We are trying to use our sports assets to give people skills", explains Kirk Harrison, the programme manager of Spaces for Sport. "[The facility] started off being a safe place to play, to help get people off the streets...but now we're trying to take it to the next step and give them specific life skills, whether that [relates to] employability or basic financial literacy." Barclays also works in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia. In the latter it works with grassroots NGOs to raise HIV awareness through football programmes.

Football has been useful to the likes of Barclays, seeking to strengthen their reputation. But it also provides direct commercial opportunities. The continent's mobile phone market, the second largest in the world behind Asia, has expanded rapidly over the last few years. The number of new subscribers has grown by almost 20% each year for the last five years, with the result that almost 650 million of Africa's 1-billion strong population have some form of mobile connectivity, according to the GSM Association. Samsung leads the way, and overtook Nokia as the world's largest mobile phone manufacturer in April. The following month, the South Korean conglomerate extended its sponsorship of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), which it commenced in 2007, for a further three years until 2016.

As well as providing CAF with electronics equipment to assure the smooth running of its African Cup of Nations tournament, which takes place every two years, Samsung has also worked on making the viewing experience as immersive as possible, developing surge-safe technology to maintain electricity supply to television sets during times of peak usage - i.e., whenever an African team advances to the late stage of an international tournament - as well as ensuring fan's beers stay cool in the event of in-match power cuts. "We know that if you're watching a game of football, you definitely want to enjoy a good cold drink with it," says George Ferreira, the chief operating officer of Samsung Electronics Africa. "So we've been able to develop fridges which can sustain their [cold] temperatures for longer, even if the power does go off. If you're watching the game in a closed environment, we've got air-conditioning systems which blow cleaner air through our virus-protected system. We want to make sure", explains Ferreira, "that people can enjoy Africa's number one sport by having the day-to-day technology to support their needs." Samsung have also benefitted from their sponsorship of Chelsea FC, the current holders of the UEFA Champions League title, who have employed the continent's biggest stars, Ghana's Michael Essien and the Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba, who recently left the club in preparation for a move to China. Drogba has done a great deal of promotional work for Samsung in his native country, where his visits are met with packed streets and stadia.

MTN Group and Orange, Samsung's fellow travellers in Africa's mobile phone market, have also taken advantage of football's popularity. MTN Group, which operates in 21 African countries, runs MTN Football, the most comprehensive website on the continent's football and a resource for fans and analysts alike. For more than 10 years, Orange has sponsored several of Africa's national teams, including Senegal, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast, and since 2009 it has sponsored six of Africa's leading football tournaments, including the African Nations Cup, which has given them the greatest exposure. "For the 2012 Orange African Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, 157 countries were reached with TV broadcasts [of the tournament], which represents a 53% increase on the 2010 tournament in Angola", says Karim Mbengue, the communication and sponsorship director of Orange AMEA. "In terms of hours of TV broadcasting, there were 84,766hours [for Orange AFCON in 2012], which doubled the amount of coverage in 2010." Despite keen African interest in their home tournament, this is nothing compared to the attention they pay to overseas leagues. "They follow the European championships more than the Kenyan championship", notes Mbengue, with some bemusement.

The two main industries using football as a central plank in outreach efforts in Africa - banking and telecommunications - are themselves in rapid expansion. And, most crucially, the status of African players within the international game is growing. Elite clubs, frustrated by premiums charged for young European talent, find themselves looking elsewhere for bargain acquisitions, and it is often in players of African origin that they find prize assets. The surprise success of Newcastle United in last year's Premier League - they finished fifth - can be attributed in very large part to three such stars: Ivorian midfielder Cheick Tioté and the Senegalese strikers Demba Ba and Papiss Demba Cissé. Like Didier Drogba and Liberia's George Weah ( who played at Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan), they arrived in major European leagues without fanfare, and within a couple of years surged to global prominence. As they and their peers continue to make their mark, they make investment in their sport all the more enticing.

Copyright This is Africa. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (

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