Thu, 11 Jan 2024 Feature Article

Chinese Investment in African Football: Sowing the Seeds of Success

Chinese Investment in African Football: Sowing the Seeds of Success

From January 13 to February 11, 2024 the 34th edition of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON), Africa’s single-biggest sporting event with more than 600 million viewers around the world will be hosted by Cote d’Ivoire. This is the second time the West-African country is hosting the month-long tournament – Cote d’Ivoire hosted the sporting event for the first time in 1984, exactly 40 years ago. However, unlike the 1984 tournament which had only eight participating nations, the 2023 AFCON welcomes teams from twenty-four African countries. Faced with the daunting task to host its first major competition since 1984, Cote d’Ivoire in its preparations has left no stone unturned to ensure the sporting event becomes one of the most successful in the tournament’s history. So far, the African country has invested more than US$1billion in infrastructure relating to the competition – through collaborations with various stakeholders and partners, Cote d’Ivoire has built world-class sports facilities and infrastructure required to host the tournament.

For example, the opening game of the 2023 AFCON which features the host Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea-Bissau is expected to be played at the Alassane Ouattara Olympic Stadium of Ebimpé, the Chinese-built state-of-the-art 60,000-seater stadium – the biggest and most-equipped stadium in West-Africa will also host the final match of the competition – To add more, Chinese enterprises namely, China Civil Engineering Construction Company and China National Building Material contributed to build two additional stadiums for the 2023 AFCON: the Laurent Pokou Stadium in San Pedro and the Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium in Korhogo, respectively, each has a capacity of 20,000.

In fact, apart from contributing to build reliable and suitable stadiums and physical infrastructure relating to the tournament, Chinese enterprises have invested in other key areas of the football event. For example, in terms of marketing and branding, Chinese companies Tecno and APSONIC represent two of the total 5 official competition sponsors for the 2023 AFCON. What’s more, to ensure the tournament is accessible and viewed by millions of people across countries on the continent, Chinese pay television firm StarTimes is one of the companies that has so far, officially secured full rights to broadcast all 52 matches at the 2023 AFCON, a partnership that dates back to 2019-2022 AFCON and the 2020 African Nations Championship (CHAN).

Over the last few years, growing Chinese investments particularly, television broadcast rights acquisition and sponsorship for AFCON and other football competitions in the region has significantly boosted revenue generated from the sport. Apart from 2016 when total revenue generated by the Confederation of African Football (CAF), the governing body of African football dropped to US$36.9 million, its lowest, earnings from the continent’s football governing body has followed an upward trajectory from 2020, accumulating revenue of US$125.2 million in 2022, the highest since 2015 – the 2022 AFCON alone contributed US$79.7 million whiles inter club tournaments also generated almost US$35.4 million in the same year.

The rise in revenue for CAF driven by earnings from sponsorships and television rights in recent years is critical for the development of the African football ecosystem. Faced with inadequate funding for decades, Africa’s share of the entire global sponsorship funding is just 1 percent, thus, US$300 million – inadequate sponsorship funding hampers CAF’s objective to promote and develop the game of football and increase its popularity across countries on the African continent. In the case of African football clubs, limited access to sponsorship funding compels club owners and administrators to rely solely on matchday tickets revenue, government subsidies and donations from wealthy individuals which are not enough for the day-to-day running of football clubs.

As a result, African clubs for years have struggled to make adequate investments required to develop the continent’s football ecosystem, which includes building modern stadiums to boost revenue generation, setting up high-quality training facilities and hiring top-notch coaches to develop young football talents into world-class professionals. However, in recent years, burgeoning Chinese investments in African football including construction of world-class stadiums, sponsorships and television broadcast rights acquisition is strengthening national efforts to provide the financial muscle and quality publicity Africa needs to develop its football ecosystem. For instance in July 2023 Uganda Premier League side SC Villa signed a 5-year sponsorship deal with Chinese tyre company Linglong Tyre worth US$750,000, this is the biggest sponsorship package ever received by a Ugandan football club in recent years.

Also, in Ghana and Uganda StarTimes has been the official Premier League broadcaster since 2016 and 2018, respectively – the Ghana Football Association (GFA) signed a 5-year sponsorship package with StarTimes worth US$5.2 million which commenced in the 2019/20 season – similar arrangements can be seen in other African countries including Zambia and Kenya – in these African countries, StarTimes, the continent’s leading digital-television operator invests massively in the latest sports broadcast solutions with the goal to bring the quality of football match productions to international standards. From one African country to the other, growing investments from Chinese enterprises including sponsorships, modern sports facilities and ICT investments are contributing to empower participants of the football ecosystem – enabling key members such as football associations and football clubs to overcome financial challenges associated with both women and men football talent development.