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NFL sees “hugely exciting potential” in Africa

League’s head of Europe and Africa Brett Gosper says NFL is playing “long game” in expanding to continent.

24 April 2023 Josh Sim

Getty Images

  • NFL to use digital platforms and work with broadcast partners for content opportunities
  • Commercial activations not immediate focus
  • NFL game in Africa will happen but “probably not soon”, says Gosper

Brett Gosper, the National Football League’s (NFL) head of Europe and Africa, says there is “hugely exciting potential” to expand the league’s presence in Africa.

More than 125 players of African descent from 15 countries across the continent currently play in the NFL, and the league is keen to broaden its reach in the region. Earlier this month, the league held a talent identification camp and NFL flag football showcase in Kenya’s capital Nairobi as part of its continued investment in growing the game at all levels.

“We wouldn’t be here if [the African market] wasn’t important,” Gosper told SportsPro. “It’s important to the ownership, and it’s important to the players at the NFL, that we’re present in Africa.

“It’s very important to us to grow the game here, both from a fan and participation angle. There’s hugely exciting potential in this market and it’s driven in many ways by the athletes themselves. There’s no area outside of the US that provides the greatest athletes to the greatest competition in the world.”

The NFL previously spent time in Ghana last year, holding talent identification camps, NFL flag football clinics and fan events. For this year’s activities, Gosper was joined by Osi Umenyiora, a two-time Super Bowl champion who was born in the UK to Nigerian parents.

While Gosper envisions that commercial opportunities in the region will be developed, he stresses that this is currently not an immediate priority for the NFL.

“I think there will be definitely some opportunities that will emerge over time but it’s not our immediate focus,” he said.

“We’re playing a long game here in Africa. That’s the beauty of a brand and business like the NFL, that the ownership and shareholding makeup looks into the long-term future, but you’ve got to plant those seeds now.

“I think those commercial opportunities will come naturally and happen with us. But now our preoccupation is engaging the fanbase and engaging fans with the game.”

As well as continuing to hold flag football clinics, fan events and talent identification camps, a more pressing goal for the league is to raise the profile of current NFL players of African descent, and their connections to African countries, to drive interest and excitement among young fans. The league also plans to use its own digital platforms and work with media partners, such as ESPN, to provide increased broadcast time and content opportunities to tell stories centred on deepening the NFL’s connection to the continent.

“To be honest, we have to do a better job of making the people in Africa understand what we’re doing,” Umenyiora told SportsPro. “I think people know what’s going on in the UK, they know what’s going on in America.

“But within Africa, I think these stories will resonate a whole lot more because it’s opportunity, right, and that’s what we’re selling. If we do a good job of promoting that within Africa, I think this sport is really going to take off here.”

For Gosper, who believes that an NFL game in Africa will happen “one day”, emphasising African representation and telling the stories of those in the league is key for new fans to discover American football.

“It is probably the most tangible connection seeing those athletes come from their hometown or their home country and so on make it to the big time,” he continued. “Because it’s probably not soon that we’ll have NFL games in Africa.

“It’ll happen one day but it’s not planned for the current period of time. So having those athletes that drives that interest is great, it’s a discovery. This is obviously a sports-mad continent, so them discovering some of the greatest athletes in the world, via people from their own countries, is something that resonates very strongly.”

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