As the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) unfolds, football supporters aren’t the only ones gearing up for excitement. Brands are strategically positioning themselves to leverage the tournament’s massive reach, which is tipped to be the biggest to date. 

Dean Akinjobi, CEO of Football Media and George Harborne, Sponsorship Director of SBC, spoke to Insider Sport about how brands will use the “untapped” potential of the tournament to their advantage this year. 

Insider Sport: How can star players, particularly Premier League ones, be leveraged creatively during AFCON by brands?

Dean Akinjobi: There are a number of ways that star players from the Premier League can be leveraged creatively during AFCON. For example, brand ambassador partnerships – this is an area that can be used to leverage players IP rights, including competitions to win signed merchandise and or activations. 

This could include exclusive live streamed Q&A’s with the ambassador that are hosted on brands social channels and promoted to fans of the player and the Premier League team that the player plays for.

This will enable brands’ target audiences to engage with players in unique ways during AFCON. This will ultimately create immediate brand affinity that can be built upon from the live stream Q&A’s, through the implementation of data capture and social media following metrics associated with participation in the live stream Q&A’s. 

SEO content and link building can be used by brands too, through the implementation of an SEO focus content series strategy covering players from the Premier League that are playing in AFCON.

The provision of content focused on individual players stats in the Premier League v stats for their country is an example of high quality relevant topical content. This can be placed on a significant amount of relevant football sites and linked back to a brands website to generate targeted search related traffic during AFCON.

With regards to other strategies, I’ll provide you with a current live example that Football Media is delivering for a client. Mo Salah is one of the most popular players in the world and is a hero worshipped by Liverpool fans.

A strategy that we have created and are implementing for a client involves targeting audiences in Liverpool and in particular around the Anfield area, with location based mobile advertising and messages centred around Mo Salah’s participation in AFCON and the opportunity to use our client brands products and services during the tournament.

This is also being amplified by user intent data display advertising, engaging with audiences in Liverpool that have been consuming Mo Salah content on a regular basis. The final part of the strategy is linked to digital out of home advertising, targeting locations that align with the mobile location based marketing activity.  

Insider Sport: What effect will the Sky broadcasting deal have on the brands wanting to sponsor AFCON?

Akinjobi: The Sky broadcasting deal will have a very positive effect on brands sponsoring AFCON as it will give brands further exposure to tens of millions of viewers throughout the UK.

Furthermore, the fact that Sky has secured AFCON broadcasting rights, means that the marketing of AFCON will significantly increase through Sky’s channels. This will, in turn, help brands that are running marketing campaigns around AFCON to leverage the awareness that Sky is generating through the mass promotion of AFCON and its broadcast rights, to domestic audiences.

Insider Sport: Does AFCON and African football in general have untapped commercial potential that many brands are not making the most of?

George Harborne: In my opinion the commercial potential of CAF and its member nations is significant. CAF has enlisted the help of global sports marketing agency IMG to assist with its commercial development, a partnership that has begun to yield results including most recently with the Unilever partnership for AFCON 2024.

A theme that I think brands can certainly take advantage of by working with the likes of CAF is cultural diversity. The continent is home to a huge range of languages, cultures and customs that could be leveraged by brands to create fan connections.

It would be a huge step to see more brands utilise the vast activation potential of working with the likes of CAF or across sports teams on the continent.

Insider Sport: Orange recently renewed its longstanding deal with AFCON, what message does this send around the ecosystem of brands and sponsorships? 

Akinjobi: Orange’s renewal of its longstanding deal with AFCON sends a very positive message around the ecosystem of brands and sponsorships. It is clear that the sponsorship is working and Orange as a brand can see the long term value and ROI from such a partnership. This is very encouraging for other brands wanting to align with African football.

Africa as a market presents major opportunities for brands to expand further. When looking at the mobile sector alone in reference to Orange in this instance, in 2023, Sub-Saharan Africa alone had around half a billion unique mobile subscribers and nearly 300 million mobile internet users. This cumulatively helped to generate over $170bn in economic value added by the mobile industry to the Sub-Saharan economy. 

The numbers and market case is therefore very clear to see. However – its the brands, both domestic and international – that are willing to engage and provide products and services to audiences across the African continent for the long term and implement the right type of culturally relevant brand marketing activities and activations, that will reap the long-term rewards. 

Insider Sport: Could we see other companies look to follow-suit and establish a long-term relationship with the tournament?

Akinjobi: I think we could see other brands follow suit with long-term relationships with the tournament as it makes strategic sense, I tell you why.

AFCON as a tournament is growing and a number of the best players in the world continue to come from Africa, playing in the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Ligue 1 and the Saudi Pro League.

Africa as a continent currently has a population of over 1.4 billion people, and over the next 25 years, at its current level of projected population growth,the African continent will be home to at least 25% of the world’s population. 

Brands that have a big long term vision should be accessing where the next level of growth will be occurring in emerging markets – Africa as a continent is definitely one of them.

The key drivers of success will always be product, service, market positioning and the ability to build a brand that resonates with the many different cultures that exist within individual countries in Africa, let alone across the overall continent. 

Insider Sport: Are there any changes that we can expect to see at this AFCON regarding marketing activations and effective commercial use of the tournament, compared to past years?

Akinjobi: I think things will be bigger this year, the opening ceremony has set the tone with a spectacle of African unity, music and football. Marketing activations that amplify these themes around music and football are certain to be successful, when delivered in the right way. 

We’ve seen the power of Afrobeats music and football first hand at Football Media, through the creation and activation of a number of brand ambassador partnerships featuring Afrobeats stars for various brand clients that have products and services that align with football, which has enabled them to develop market share across Africa. 

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