Sub-Saharan Africa: The broadcasters' race for sports rights

Showmax Pro, Multichoice’s sports streaming subsidiary, has achieved a 111% increase in subscribers in 2022 according to the latest annual report of the firm. The South African company explains that this growth began in October 2022 when the platform announced the streaming of the entire World Cup as well as price reductions for the occasion. Sports broadcasting rights, especially football, have always been a crucial asset for broadcasters in Africa. Until recently the rights allocation was quite stable with three main players in the region. The French Canal+ and the South African Multichoice both used to broadcast international men’s sports competitions; the former in French-speaking countries, the latter in the rest of Africa. The Chinese Startimes has been combining the broadcasting of international competitions with local championships for years.

However, the last World Cup materially modified the picture, as the Togolese television channel New World TV obtained the broadcasting rights in French-speaking countries, previously broadcasted by Canal+. Besides the World Cup, several major international competitions are among the most proposed contents such as the English Premier League, the Football World Cup or the Africa Cup of Nations. Overall, football remains the most widely broadcasted sport in Sub-Saharan Africa, whether it be national team matches or international championships. Other men’s sports are also covered, like basketball or rugby, in general for global events such as the rugby World Cup or the NBA championship. Nevertheless, broadcasters tend offer more and more local competitions to appeal to the public. For instance, in 2020, while Multichoice acquired the broadcasting rights for the Ethiopian league, StarTimes secured the Kenyan championship for seven years and at the price of USD 1 million per year. Local competitions have been a differentiation factor for Startimes for years, as the company also holds the rights to broadcast the Senegalese Ligue 1 over 10 seasons acquired for USD 11 million in 2018.

Unlike Canal+ which incorporated sports channels into its various TV packages based on content amount and price rather than genres, Multichoice and StarTimes decided to devote specific offers to sports content. The former dedicates an entire OTT platform to its sports offering, Showmax Pro, while the latter has created sports add-ons to its DTT Classic package (SportsPlus) and its DTT Basic package (SportsPlay) in various countries such as Ghana, Kenya or Nigeria. Football viewership is traditionally driven by television, present in many African households and enabling live, shared viewing experiences. Nonetheless, OTT platforms could have the potential to become powerful distribution channels in Sub-Saharan Africa as they try to offer more easy-to-use mobile applications and affordable subscriptions with data packages.

However, the stranglehold of these three operators is disturbed by the emergence of local actors determined to gain a foothold in this market. The Togolese television New World TV which won the 2022 World Cup in French speaking Africa paid more than EUR 15 million for the broadcasting rights, and it does not intend to stop there, as it also holds the broadcasting rights of several major competitions including the Women’s Football World Cup in 2023, two consecutive editions of the Men’s UEFA European Football Championship (2024 and 2028), the exclusive broadcasting of the English FA Cup in 17 African countries, the Leagues of Nations from 2022 to 2027, and the European zone qualifiers for the World Cup 2026. The operator hopes to capitalise on its affordable TV packages and local language commentators, as announced for the French Ligue 1 matches for instance.

Besides New World TV, other local broadcasters have seen sports rights as a way to differentiate themselves. Since the end of 2020, the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) holds the Zambian national first division's broadcasting rights, while Cameroon’s public audiovisual channel CRTV renewed its agreement with the Cameroon Football Federation in December 2022 and holds the rights to Cameroon’s first and second division (acquired in 2021 for about EUR 150K), the Guinness Super League (women's football first division) and the Cameroon Cup. These local agreements not only allow the channels to attract more viewers but also allow local sports competitions to grow and gain visibility. When the private Tanzanian operator Azam TV first bought the broadcasting rights to the Tanzanian league in 2017, it paid USD 2.1 million. In May 2021, when the channel renewed its broadcasting rights, the cost rose to USD 97 million for the exclusive rights for the next ten years, or about USD 10 million per year. This is a testament to the way local football has developed in the region. Provided that the sector is structured and gains shared among all stakeholders, this tendency could turn into a virtuous circle, allowing local clubs to develop further.

Generating advertising revenues and profits remains indeed a major challenge for broadcasters, even for sports programs. Although audiences are not lacking, broadcasters do not always have reliable tools to measure them and share them with advertisers eager to collect metrics on their ad campaigns and results. The management of revenues streams might also not be structured enough to guarantee a fair distribution of earnings among all stakeholders.

In English-speaking markets, confronting Multichoice for sports rights acquisition would not be an easy task for potential challengers, who would need the financial means to wrest the sports rights from the leader. In South Africa for instance, where Multichoice’s position draws dangerously near to a monopoly, the key action at hand of other broadcasters to create an audience lies in their ability to invest and create value for smaller competitions, whose acquisition prices remain affordable.

Thus, the future of sports broadcasting in Sub-Saharan Africa remains full of promises, regarding in particular the growing importance of local broadcasters and leagues, the increasing price of broadcasting rights and the promotion of other sports besides football (Olympic Games, Formula 1, Moto GP, cycling, athletics for instance). The expected upturn will also bring a certain amount of uncertainties. Is a New World TV scenario conceivable in English-speaking Africa? Will Canal+’s leading position be affected by the event? Other challenges to overcome in the region include advertising market development, fighting piracy and bringing all steps of the value chain to higher levels. Many questions that remain unsettled for now and yet illustrate the strong potential of a changing market. For the time being, it is expected and hoped that over time, the infrastructure will undergo the required upgrades to support the strong potential awaiting sports players in SSA.

Léa Zouein| Analyst at Dataxis

This research highlight is based on our data coverage of TV and sports markets in Sub-Saharan Africa. Please contact us to get a demo and see the depth of our service.


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