// . //  Insights //  Africa's Sporting Appetite Could Spark Economic Growth

A version of this was originally published in BusinessLIVE.

With Morocco announced to be one of the co-hosts for the Men’s 2030 Football World Cup, there is a growing appetite for international sporting competitions to be held in Africa. In 2023 alone, South Africa hosted the Women’s T20 Cricket World Cup and the Netball World Cup, while Cape Town became the first African city to host a Formula E ePrix.

In 2027, meanwhile, South Africa is set to host the ODI Cricket World Cup in partnership with Namibia and Zimbabwe. Other large sporting events in the pipeline include the long-awaited return of Formula 1 to the continent.

While such events require the right infrastructure to be put in place, in the long run, they offer more than just prestige and visibility – they provide significant economic benefits. When South Africa hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup, for example, it boosted economic growth by 0.4% and added R38 billion to the country’s economy. This is because, in addition to the immediate boost from visitors, these events also attract investment.

International interest for Africa to host sports events

It's worth noting that the African countries themselves aren't the only ones interested in exploring what the continent has to offer in terms of sports. A growing number of international sporting federations are also keen on the idea.

For example, earlier this year the NBA announced talks to host a pre-season game in Africa, building on previous exhibition matches held on the continent in 2015, 2017, and 2018. The NBA also launched the Basketball Africa League (BAL), which acts as a feeder league to the NBA and was facilitated by an existing ecosystem of the sport across the continent.

Plus, as more African mixed-martial arts fighters rise through the ranks, the UFC plans to hold its first African event, with Senegal as the leading candidate to host it. Additionally, international mass participation bodies like Iron Man and trail running’s UTMB World Series have hosted events on the continent for several years.

It is not surprising that there's a growing interest in sports in Africa, given its young and increasingly connected population. Africa is also one of the world's fastest-growing regions in terms of economics and urbanization. Sports spending is linked to macroeconomic development stages, and so we anticipate that the amount of disposable income spent on sports will accelerate, resulting in sports spending growing faster than incomes.

Sporting bodies understand this potential and, as more developed markets become saturated, Africa is becoming an increasingly important growth market.

It will be important, however, for African countries to ensure that they’re able to benefit from this outside interest. As South Africa’s rugby franchises have discovered, it can be difficult to retain talented athletes once overseas markets have discovered them. And while there are undoubtedly benefits to players spending some time abroad, the sporting equivalent of a “brain drain” simply isn’t sustainable. That makes it even more critical that African sporting bodies ensure any investments go into growing their codes, particularly when it comes to mass participation, as well as into building domestic and international audiences for their home competitions.

Harnessing the potential of Africa’s sports market for economic growth

There is a lot of room for growth too. Our data estimates that the current sports market in Africa is worth more than US$12 billion but could reach over US$20 billion by 2035. While a near doubling of the market in 10 years may seem high, the revenue generated by a single event can add up quickly. For instance, this year's Cape Town ePrix contributed more than R1 billion (US$52 million) to the city's revenue.

And remember, the value of a big sporting event can extend beyond its duration. Infrastructure upgrades, such as roads, airports, and stadiums, can drive job creation. Positive experiences during the event may also encourage visitors to return, boosting tourism. These events can also create new fans and inspire people to take up sports, improving citizens' health, which, is a potential economic boost.

Established and “challenger” sports are both important

But how can African countries attract as many lucrative events as possible and maximize their economic potential? They can start by highlighting their strengths, which have already attracted several international sporting federations. In addition to a young population and economic growth, the continent boasts a well-established sporting infrastructure, including 136 stadiums with more than 25,000 seats (the largest being the FNB stadium in Johannesburg with a capacity of 94,000) and there are nearly 200 more stadiums with 10,000 to 25,000 seats.

Africa also has a vibrant sporting media landscape, with domestic players like SuperSport and international broadcasters such as ESPN and Canal+ capable of bringing events hosted on the continent to both local and global screens.

African countries would also do well not to focus solely on sports like football, which are already popular on the continent. So-called challenger sports can also be economically beneficial, with some already building in popularity. In addition to sports like Basketball and Mixed Martial Arts, America’s National Football League (NFL) is gaining traction in Africa. This is evident in the growing interest in the NFL’s YouTube content in African markets, driven by both the Super Bowl and regular season games. While it will take time to reap real rewards from such sports, their presence on the continent should certainly be encouraged.

Ultimately, it’s clear that there is a strong and growing demand for major international sporting events in Africa, and that international sporting bodies want to capitalize on Africa's inherent advantages to grow their own audiences and reach. By both capitalizing on the demand and playing to its advantages, Africa will be able to reap significant economic rewards that could produce long-term dividends across the continent.

Read the original piece, here (paywall).