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Africa Investment Forum Champions Sports as Key African Economic Growth Sector

By bringing partners together to close deals, the Africa Investment Forum provides a unique platform for translating Africa’s business potential into realized investments.
posted onNovember 8, 2023

Sports will take center stage at the 2023 Africa Investment Forum Market Days, which started Wednesday, November 8, and will end on Nov.10 in Marrakech, Morocco.

Since its inaugural event in 2018, Africa’s premier investment platform has long showcased the vast potential of sports as a business on the continent. Today, the global sports industry, worth $512 billion in 2023, is projected to grow to $624 billion in 2027, according to the Sports Global Market Report 2023 published by the Business Research Company.

While North America had the largest share of the sports market in 2022, Africa is expected to grow at a rate of 8% over the next 3-5 years, according to PwC’s Global Sports Survey 2023.

Africa’s expected sports business growth is driven by a young population and the emergence of globally successful athletes in several sports including football, basketball, and boxing, says Africa's Sports Economy: Current Context, Challenges and Opportunities report published by African Sports & Creative Institute (ASCI). The continent is home to the world’s youngest population, with 70% under age 30.

Sports provides tremendous opportunities for skills acquisition, employment, and entrepreneurial opportunities. Africa has become a major source of talent for European football leagues: over 500 African players are currently contracted across eleven prominent European leagues, according to KPMG data.

The increased appetite for African talent is also motivating entrepreneurs across Africa to create systems and initiatives that monetize the sports industry. As Ndeye Diarra of Silverbacks Holdings, a Mauritius-based venture capital firm, told How we made it in Africa, adopting business models in sports can attract brands to invest in African talent.

"We should be supporting teams here in Africa, that should be our vision. Sports is the next big thing in Africa," urged Masai Ujiri, President of the Toronto Raptors and founder of the non-profit Giants of Africa Foundationduring the 2022 Africa Investment Forum Market Days. He called sports the greatest ecosystem for creating jobs and improving livelihoods for African youth.

Ujiri used the Toronto Raptors as an example. “Take Scotiabank Arena—the Toronto Raptors’ 20,000-people stadium: Toronto Raptors get $800 million as part of a 10-year deal allowing Scotiabank to add their name to our stadium.(link is external) $800 million just in naming rights. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame just concluded a similar deal for Kigali Arena with Bank of Kigali. Now, imagine this: say you’d like to organize an event in Scotiabank Arena, and you call them: you will not get a date for the next two years. Why? Because in addition to basketball competitions, the Arena is also fully booked with concerts, conferences, circuses and so on.”

Ujiri has championed investments in sports infrastructure and youth development through his Giants of Africa Foundation. The foundation uses basketball to educate and enrich the lives of African youth by providing high-quality facilities, equipment, and coaches to grow the game across the continent.

Earlier in 2022, Masai Ujiri, former iconic Chelsea Football Club star and legendary captain of the Elephants of Côte d'Ivoire Didier Drogba and eight-time NBA All-Star and Hall of Fame Congolese-American basketball giant Dikembe Mutombo inaugurated a state-of-the-art sports facility at the Bingerville Boys Orphanage on the outskirts of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, that was launched by the Giants of Africa Foundation. The foundation uses basketball to educate and enrich the lives of African youth. The organization provides quality facilities, sports gear, and coaches to grow the game of basketball in Africa. It also supports underprivileged children and young adults through several basketball camps designed to help young Africans think big.

According to African Development Bank Group President Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, "Investments like Giants of Africa are important seeds planted for the betterment of the future of young people in Côte d’Ivoire and Africa.”

Drogba notes sports' immense possibilities and power to change lives. “I recognize myself in all these children, all from modest backgrounds; sport, and soccer in particular, have enabled me to build the career that is mine,” he said. “Sport is a lesson in life: sport isn't just about people running after a ball, it also challenges our brains: it's important to learn, to educate yourself, to be able to read a contract. You have examples of success here: big brother Masai, big brother Dikembe, President Adesina... they're all examples for you young people."

Rwanda provides an exceptional example of how to successfully simultaneously unlock the power and potential of sports and tourism. In 2023, the Rwanda Development Board agreed a five-year football development and tourism promotion partnership with German Bundesliga football club, Bayern Munich.  That deal follows earlier partnerships with English Premier League club, Arsenal; France Ligue 1 club, Paris Saint Germain; and the Basketball Africa League (BAL).  

Rwanda has also invested heavily in sports infrastructure such as the Bank of Kigali (BK) Arena, which hosts the country’s national basketball league and attracts major events, conferences and music concerts. This approach to sports is helping to boost tourism and pave the way for Rwanda to become a leading sports, entertainment, and business events hub.

The Kigali Arena, built in 2019, changed its name in 2022 to the BK Arena after a six-year sponsorship deal worth $8 million with Bank of Kigali, which is said to be the biggest arena naming-rights partnership on the African continent.

In August 2023, Ujiri broke ground on an urban development project in Kigali marketed as a social, cultural and sports hub for the country’s expanding middle classes. Nearby the BK Arena, Zaria Court is expected to open in early 2025. According to a press release, the project is “centered around an urban hospitality hub which reuses existing buildings and features an 80-room boutique hotel, restaurants, a rooftop lounge, a gym, wellness spaces, co-working spaces and a podcast studio. At the heart of the site is a multi-purpose court, which will serve as a space for sporting events, festivals, performances, markets and other events.” It is projected to be the first of many Zaria Courts that will be built around the continent.

Ujiri said, “This project…shows that sports can act as a catalyst for neighbourhoods and for nations—jobs, businesses, and whole economies can benefit from the presence of these spaces,”

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame also attended the groundbreaking ceremony. He said, “The potential is enormous. It is actually limitless. This kind of investment grows infrastructure, it grows economies, it contributes to tourism. The impact is much bigger than what the eyes can see.” 

In 2022, Africa investment Forum Senior Director Chinelo Anohu joined Ujiri and President Kagame at Moving Sports Forward, a forum. Anohu said the focus on sports as a business was timely. She highlighted the importance of investing in the entire sports value chain, as well as the role that sports can play in driving much-needed social cohesion across the continent.

She added that the Africa Investment Forum was working with governments and the private sector to promote sports as a catalyst for business. She stressed the need to create an enabling environment in the form of investment-friendly policies, including the right legal frameworks and tax breaks and incentives.

The November 8-10, 2023 Africa Investment Forum Market Days in Marrakech will connect investors with bankable deals in the sports sector and creative industries. The theme is Unlocking Africa’s Value Chains. Other sectors that will feature include renewable energy, agribusiness, specifically special agro-industrial processing zones, and the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles.

By bringing partners together to close deals, the Africa Investment Forum provides a unique platform for translating Africa’s business potential into realized investments.

The Africa Investment Forum’s eight founding partners are the African Development Bank Group, Africa50, Africa Finance Corporation, Afreximbank, Development Bank of Southern Africa, European Investment Bank, Islamic Development Bank, and Trade and Development Bank.

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