Nigeria: Watching the Afcon 2019 Experience On NTA

Following the picturesque draws of the Africa Cup of Nations held in Cairo, Egypt, last week, there is interesting news that broke afterwards with regards to the free-to-air rights of Egypt 2019 as awarded by the Confederation of African Football (CAF). After its Executive Committee meeting, CAF announced via a communiqué that the African Union of Broadcasting (AUB) had been awarded the FTA rights to the tournament that will take place from June 21 to July 19.

This is great news that means millions of Nigerians will be able to watch the tournament via signals from the national broadcaster, the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). It is a victory for African national broadcasters who will be able to show the tournament in Africa for Africans for the first time in a long while. For a long time, the FTA rights had become too expensive for national broadcasters to access as the former CAF executive committee ensured that the rights were highly prohibitive. Just 12 national broadcasters were able to access rights for the 2017 tournament in Gabon out of 55 countries, a hundred per cent increase from the 2015 edition. Nigerians were infamously embarrassed in 2013 when former CAF Secretary-General Hicham El Amrani stated that the country was looking to buy the rights at 20 times less than the asking price.

In February, CAF announced an emergency tender process for the FTA rights which the African Union of Broadcasters has now won. The tender process showed that CAF was no longer letting its marketing partner, the French firm Lagardere Sports, handle the FTA rights process. The AUB had lost its voice in the sports broadcasting marketplace. It had been out-priced from top sports rights like the EPL and the recent FIFA World Cup by pay-TV companies SuperSport, Kwese and StarTimes in sub-Saharan Africa. Even the FTA rights for the World Cup were bought by Kwese Free Sports and redistributed in a special agreement via the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON).

But the AUB is back and is ready to play its role in ensuring that more Africans get to see the AFCON via their countries' national broadcasters. Standing in their path were European companies Infront Sports and TV Media Sport who both bid for the FTA rights. Their plan was to purchase the rights from CAF and then do a deal with AUB to buy the rights for their partners across the continent at higher than the original cost. What this meant was that AUB partners would have bought at least twice the original rate when they could have gotten directly from CAF at a decent price.

It is good that CAF did not allow the AUB to be out-priced over the AFCON 2019 rights. It is significant that CAF understands the importance of giving the FTA rights to AUB. For a long time, African national broadcasters have become onlookers in the sports broadcasting rights marketplace and losing the AFCON would only push them further away from investing in domestic sports. As African governments' budgets become tighter due to pressing demands in other sectors like healthcare and security, national broadcasters have lost the initiative to purchase sports content.

The AFCON is Africa's leading sports event with 650 million people tuned in globally during the 2013 edition in South Africa, according to SportFive. And it has increased since adding digital platforms under the contract with Lagardere as broadcasters in China, South America, the Middle East, the United States and Europe now tune in. But the African terrestrial market was priced out of the party due to the high cost of rights. Only subscription broadcasters like SuperSport could afford the rights on the continent. The NTA and others were onlookers as their national teams played. This will change this year with the AUB now in a good place.

There is excitement at NTA ahead of signing an agreement with AUB for the Nigerian part of the rights. Executives at the NTA say they are proud that this moment they have helped to birth has finally come to fruition despite the different interests at play during the bidding process. The role of the African Union in Addis Ababa in pressing CAF to ensure that African broadcasters become the holders of FTA rights on the continent was also highlighted.

But it is not enough that the NTA now has rights to the AFCON, the NTA needs to become a big player in domestic sports content.

With its experience and countrywide network, the NTA should be leading the way in acquiring sports rights and helping to grow the domestic sports industry. Without TV, sports cannot grow. It is time to evolve its operations and ensure that more local sports will be seen and consumed via the NTA. It has to come from the government deliberately investing in the national broadcaster to bring this to life.

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