Game on: How Africa’s sporting appetite could spark economic growth

M9Electro during the Cape Town ePrix at Cape Town Street Circuit on Friday, February 24, 2023. Last year’s Cape Town ePrix contributed more than R1 billion to the city’s revenue. Photo: Andrew Ferraro LAT Images

M9Electro during the Cape Town ePrix at Cape Town Street Circuit on Friday, February 24, 2023. Last year’s Cape Town ePrix contributed more than R1 billion to the city’s revenue. Photo: Andrew Ferraro LAT Images

Published Apr 14, 2024


By Tony Simpson and Paul Calvey

With Africa announced to be one of the co-hosts for the Men’s 2030 Fifa World Cup in Morocco, there is a growing appetite for international sporting competitions to be held on the continent. 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 One 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 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.

Interest from outside

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 such as Ironman 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, growing, and increasingly connected population. Africa is also one of the world’s fastest-growing regions in terms of economics and urbanisation. 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.

Room for growth

There is a lot of room for growth too. Oliver Wyman data estimates that the current sports market in Africa is worth more than $12 billion (R224bn), but could reach more than $20bn 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, last year’s Cape Town ePrix contributed more than R1bn 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 in itself, 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 maximise 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 such as 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 such as 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 capitalise on Africa’s inherent advantages to grow their own audiences and reach. By both capitalising 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.

Tony Simpson, Global Head of Sports at Oliver Wyman and Paul Calvey, Partner, Head of South Africa at Oliver Wyman.