It was a year of many highs and lows on the sports scene in Africa. While there was serious activity on the front of corporate sponsorships, general partnerships, brand activations, large scale investment, there was also news of disrupted leagues, administrative hitches and perhaps, most critically, the outbreak of the Ebola virus.

Regardless, the hope is that lessons have been learnt and will be implemented to bring about greater advancement in 2015 but now is the time to look back and ask: What brands spent money? Which nations invested in infrastructure? Who won hosting rights to competitions…and many other questions.

With figures quoted where available, here is a cursory look at the various happenings in sports business on the African continent last year and it is hardly surprising that a majority of the news centers on football.

NORTH AFRICA

Algeria enjoyed a tremendous year as the national team thrived on the biggest stage of all- the FIFA World Cup. Despite getting eliminated by Germany in the second round of the mundial, the Fennec Foxes showed that African football can be exciting and technical just as African footballers can be deep-thinking as the Algerians donated their $9 million bonus to Gaza victims. With brands such as Ooredoo, Coca-Cola, Peugeot, Puma, Macrivia and Groupe Benamor backing them at the event, the Fennec Foxes will not be short of corporate suitors anytime soon. Already tagged favourites for the 2015 African Cup of Nations, Algeria could be set for a golden era- on the pitch and in the boardrooms. It was not just about the national team though as Algerian clubside ES Setif emerging champions of Africa and bagging $1.5 million in prize money.

For Morocco, it was a rather topsy-turvy year as while they began the year with preparations in full flow for the 2015 African Cup of Nations, the Maghreb nation was forced to withdraw its hosting rights for the tournament in November due to the outbreak of the Ebola virus over threats it posed to the country’s tourism sector which accounts for 10 percent of its GDP.  On a positive note, the country successfully hosted the prestigious FIFA Club World Cup tournament presented by Toyota with European champions Real Madrid emerging victorious. With impressive attendances, the event re-affirmed Africa as a unique destination for high-profile football events. Even further proof of this was shown when two European super clubs Paris St Germain and Inter Milan announced a friendly game played on December 30 in Marrakech. In similarly bright lights, Marrakech was also named as 2015 Golf Destination of the Year for Africa & Gulf States by International Association of Golf Tour Operators in October. On an individual note, Mehdi Benatia’s move from Roma to Bayern Munich topped the charts as regards Africa as the player was ranked as the biggest African purchase of the transfer window.

Still encumbered by the spate of violence and militia rioting, Libya’s sports took a hit this year and this was crystallized by the country’s decision to withdraw its hosting rights for the 2017 AFCON in August– a disappointing end to a year that saw its home-based national team win the 2014 African Nations Championship in February thus bagging $750,000 in prize money. The start of the year also saw Libyan giants Al Ahly sign a youth development deal with FC Barcelona.

Sudan’s Al-Hilal had an impressive year bagging a sponsorship deal with Thuraya reportedly worth $3 million and also renewing its deal with German manufacturing giants, Adidas

WEST AFRICA

African champions, Nigeria, scandalously failed to qualify for a chance to defend their AFCON title amid various rows of administrative tussles, unpaid bonuses, contractual disputes and also a FIFA ban. A year to forget for Nigerian football also saw Adidas announced a cancellation of its $7 million kit deal with the Super Eagles. A few high points saw female football thrive as the Super Falcons emerged champions of Africa- a seventh time. There was also significant investment in infrastructure as the Akwa Ibom state government commissioned a $250 million stadium. Regardless, questions remain over its costs and profitability.

The Elephants of Ivory Coast had news to cheer as PUMA extended its kit deal while Yaya Toure was named Nissan global ambassador. The national team also appointed Herve Renard as new boss with the hope that he could finally turn Ivory Coast into the force we all think they can be. However, those plans have been seriously affected by recent news that Ivory Coast’s budget for the 2015 AFCON has been slashed by 90 percent. Legendary striker Didier Drogba also launched a men’s underwear line and kept up his works in philanthropy. The female national team also secured qualification for the World Cup where they will be hoping to bag a large slice of the $15 million prize money on offer.

Ghanaian football enjoyed a new lease of life as the Premier Division sealed a five year sponsorship deal with First African Plus bank worth around $10m. Star footballer Asamoah Gyan also signed a new $52 million deal with UAE club, Al Ain.

However, Ghana’s disgraceful row at the World Cup over unpaid bonuses will dent whatever meager success they enjoyed this year as they were a subject of public ridicule after $3 million was airlifted to Brazil thus raising questions over electronic banking in Africa.

Niger will host the 2015 U17 African Youth Championships in February as even more countries in Africa begin to welcome the challenge of hosting sporting events. Similarly, Senegal will host the U20 African Youth Championships in March with both events to receive full backing of CAF’s main sponsors, Orange. West Africa, being the worst hit by the Ebola virus, saw sporting events in some part halted as the virus wrecked predictable havoc on the region with both Sierra Leone and Liberia canceling local leagues.

EAST AND CENTRAL AFRICA

East and Central Africa enjoyed a boost in athletics as both Kenya and Uganda had winning bids to host 2017 IAAF events. Nairobi will host IAAF World Youth Championships after emerging victorious without being challenged while Kampala will host the IAAF World Cross Country Championships after defeating a bid from Manama, Bahrain.

Equatorial Guinea emerged as emergency hosts of the 2015 African Cup of Nations as they stepped in to replace Morocco who withdrew due to fears over the spread of the Ebola virus. The small country has since begun preparations for the event which will take place from January 17 to February 8. The new hosts have announced Malabo, Bata, Mongomo and Ebebiyin as host nations. Perhaps a sign of the corporate world’s endorsement of the choice of Equatorial Guinea came as Nissan announced signed on as official global automotive supplier to the event.

Gabon, Equatorial Guinea’s co-hosts in 2012, will not be partnering Equatorial Guinea despite boasting credible infrastructure such as the Stade de l’Amitié Sino-Gabonaise, a $60 million gift from China, and venue of the African Cup of Nations final in 2012. The country also did not get to host a second consecutive French Super Cup after hosting the 2013 edition at the Stade d’Angondjé in Libreville and recording attendances of 34, 365- a feat to remain proud of as China, hosts of the 2014 edition pulled audiences of 39, 752 despite its vast and frenzied popularity of football lovers.

SOUTHERN AFRICA

Undoubtedly, South Africa remains the leading light on the African sports business scene as the country witnessed another year which saw a flurry of events, sponsorships and investment. One of the key advantages which South Africa’s sports sector enjoys is the multiplicity of sports which are fully promoted, well organized and managed and enjoy dedicated following. This ensures that brands have more space to play and can seek out seamless fits in terms of sponsorship.

Football enjoyed a renaissance in South Africa the year kicked off with the successful hosting of the African Nations Championships despite questions over its marketing success. Bafana Bafana also sealed qualification for the 2015 African Cup of Nations in fine style. With SAFA having already agreed a $9.3 million broadcast deal with Siyaya TV in early August, Bafana Bafana’s qualification was proof that the current leadership of SAFA was doing something right. Also doing something right, the South African PSL also partnered with MultiChoice to launch the MultiChoice Diski Challenge an innovative program to drive grassroots football and capacity development in production and broadcasting. With the innovation posing excellent advantageous prospects in the future, it could well be another masterstroke for the South African sports sector.

SuperSport United won the Telkom Cup- and $367,000 prize money- as South Africa’s football league and competitions which have MTN and ABSA as some of the sponsors kicked off. In some news from South Africa which delighted the rest of the continent, pay TV channel SuperSport also acquired broadcast rights of the AFCON qualifying series thus bringing the games to households across Africa- a departure from recent years when terrestrial broadcasters struggled to afford fees thought to be exorbitant.

With South Africa regarded as the epicenter of sports business on the continent, it was not surprising that Durban hosted the Soccerex African Forum in November 2014 with leading stakeholders in various sectors across the world coming together to discuss solutions and tackle prevailing issues.

Cricket, another big sport in South Africa, enjoyed a fruitful year with partners such as Ram Hand to Hand Couriers. SA Cricket particularly stepped up its marketing to sign lucrative deals with both Audi and Samsung.

Rugby also grabbed some headlines as Emirates Airlines and Isuzu joined ABSA and Castle Lager as brands with sponsorship interests in the sport. Emirates announced a sponsorship with Lions Super Rugby Team while Isuzu also announced a three year deal as official vehicle partners of the Vodacom Blue Bulls.

In Golf, one of the more prominent events in South Africa, the Nedbank Golf Challenge was successfully held as England’s Danny Willet emerging champion and winning $1.25 million.

In Namibia, national pride was the theme of the year as the nation hosted the African Women’s Championships despite obstacles that threatened to scupper the event. Costing $8 million to deliver, Namibians generally expressed pleasure with the event as the country announced its eagerness to host even more sporting events. There was news on the Rugby front for Namibia as well as the country confirmed its participation in next year’s Vodacom Cup which many hope will stimulate further growth in a sports sector that enjoys immense popularity in the region.

In December, the Football Association of Zambia announced a three year $3 million extension to its sponsorship deal with telecoms giants MTN as the Kalusha Bwalya led board continues to deliver focused and visionary leadership. The region’s collective progress appeared stunted though as the 2014 COSAFA Cup was scrapped only a year after securing sponsorship from South African Breweries and MTN.

Finally, Zimbabwe sought to stretch the limits of possibility as they boldly declared ambitious intentions to host the 2034 World Cup. Despite a weakening economy, incredible inflation rates and continuous political tensions, Zimbabwe are looking to better their neighbors South Africa who hosted the 2010 World Cup at a princely sum of $12 billion. No pressure, Zimbabwe.

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