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Lagardère Sports Football Africa President on African football and sponsorship

By Andrea Huang 21 Sep 2018

Lagardère Sports is a major player in the African football business world. Lagardère acquired company SportFive which formed a major part of Lagardère Sports had already worked with the Confederation of African Football in media rights, sponsorship development, and other areas a decade ago.

At the beginning of September, when the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation was held in Beijing, which strengthens collaboration between China and African countries, Lagardère Sports took the opportunity in this China-Africa week in the capital city, to showcase their experiences and services in Africa to potential partners and clients in China and Africa.  

Idriss Akki, President Football Africa and Managing Director Africa at Lagardère Sports, attended the 2nd Global Development Summit For Africa organized by the African Chamber of Commerce (AFCHAM) which took place in the same week in Beijing, as a speaker on behalf of Lagardère Sports, to talk about how football can help businesses and organizations build relationships and promote themselves in Africa. 

We also had a chance to sit down with Mr. Akki at the summit to listen to his views about African football and football sponsorship, to learn from his rich experience and successful career and to talk more about football and football sponsorship on the African continent.   

Could you describe the overall development of football in Africa? What characteristics does African football display in its development? 

Football is the No. 1 sport in Africa. Sports is in the DNA of the continent. Some football players are the best in the world, for example, Mohamed Salah from Egypt and Sadio Mane from Senegal are star names. Mohamed Salah is also one of the three players to be considered for the Best Player of the Year Award. Three African teams made it to the quarter final of the FIFA World Cup. Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010. 

The main characters in the development of African football is based on the passion for this sport. The whole continent, the same passion everywhere. It’s the common language for everybody. I see football growing from the smallest countries to the establishment of great teams. Kids are playing football everywhere. African football is available in many televisions. For the younger generation, on most of the portable devices. 

Among the many sports, football is the No. 1 sport in Africa? 

By far, football is the first sport. The second is music. Maybe it’s clever to link music with football. Our stadium is full a few hours before the kickoff. It means for some brands, it would be interesting to link entertainment/music in the stadium which would capture audience of twenty, thirty, even fifty or eighty thousand at the stadium for two hour or three hours before the kickoff. There was a game at four o’clock in the afternoon, but the stadium was full of people at 8 am in the morning, full of yellow, the color of the team. Brands should use these kinds of opportunities to touch the heart of the people if football is their No. 1 sport and music and entertainment is No. 2. You should consider how to link both and entertain people? People go to the stadiums like going to the opera, going to the theatre. It’s their weekly spend on entertainment. 

You have been working for Africa football business for many years. What’s your view of football sponsorship in Africa? How has football sponsorship changed in Africa? What unique characteristics does African football sponsorship display? 

The generic characteristics of the development of football in Africa is linked directly to the social platform. African wants to discuss the game. They want more image. Not necessarily from the game, but on the backstage, to which sponsors can also add their own content and put them on their own social media platforms. 

Sponsorship has been growing very fast in Africa football, mainly driven by companies who understand the necessity to communicate through the most important advertising platform in Africa. Football is a unique media platform in Africa, because it’s the main language of everybody. It’s live and it speaks to everybody at the same time. You have different Africans and media platforms, but the only media platform that speaks to everybody at the same time is football. 

We keep our broadcast team all over the world. We have 2-3 minutes before the kick off at half time dedicated to the sponsors of the games. CAF produces around 50 games live every year. It is also a media buy platform for the companies. Football could be a media buy platform, a sponsorship platform and a B2B companies’ hospitality platform. We could tailor made our offers for the companies. 

Is football sponsorship popular among local companies in Africa? 

Yeah, we developed special programs for local companies. The needs are different. You need to give back to local communities, not just to use football for big international corporations. You need to have specific programs for locals. 

What is your most satisfactory or most proud sponsorship during your football sponsorship career in Africa? Could you elaborate on the reasons? 

We had many sponsorships, but the next one will always be the most challenging one. Together with our partner, local organizers and our teams on the ground, we always have the position to deliver the best, to improve and challenge ourselves to give the best to African football. 

I also like many sponsorship cases. But the favorite one is not the most successful one-- not the biggest number. It’s always the first one. The first one is always special. At the time, we had an inter club competition. I met with Coke in Dubai and Atlanta. They told me, “We own African football. We own all the clubs. We don’t need your platform.” Then I signed with their competitor, PepsiCo. The first game was in Johannesburg, first edition of the African Super Cup between two Egyptian teams, in Johannesburg at the FNB Stadium in 1993 where the 2010 South Africa World Cup was held. Johannesburg had a lifetime deal with Coke, but Coke didn’t operate, they didn’t have distribution in Johannesburg. The first deal was the most challenging one, but it was the one where you can prove it. (To be able to succeed in the deal) You need to respect Africans, their identity and their dignity. And PepsiCo was with African football for the next 20 years because we proved to them that we were a trusted partner and we deliver their benefits in the most challenging area. 

It was not too much money: at that time 5 years for USD400,000, but in my memory it’s something important. Even though after that we made some great deals with millions in broadcast and even some big deals in sponsorship --Total sponsored $30m over 8 years, Orange for 8 years with 60 million dollars, but those are numbers. For me, I still remember the first one. 

You just mentioned Total and Orange. These are two very large-scale deals. Does the ratio of 1:1 between sponsorship fees and activation fees apply to these large-scale deals? 

The challenge of the African continent is that we activate on behalf of the sponsors some of the rights, because it is very challenging for them and we have teams who are very strong and we put inside the deals a lot of activation. 

It does not mean that Total and Orange do not activate outside the deal. Globally the media rights are about 65-70%, 24% or 25% coming from the partners, the rest coming from ticketing and hospitality programs. In this 25%, in Africa (the ratio of sponsorship fee and activation fee) is maybe not 100 to 100, but maybe more, 150, because activation plan is quite difficult to implement. Besides, in most of the countries, Total and Orange have long histories, which means they have strong affiliations and strong human resources. Therefore, they have long term spending in activation. 

Is there any difference when you do activation of sponsorship in Africa, compared to doing activation in other places?

One of our differences with our competitors is that our colleagues are from the continent. They know how to talk with their fellow citizens. Legacy is a strong word for us. We train a lot of local people in each country. It’s African people talking to African people. You don’t come to activate with foreign rules. If you want to touch the heart of the people, you need to give back to the communities and speak the languages of the communities. That’s why all our competitors for the last 25 years did not have strong relations with Africa because they did not use the right human resources to get in and to have a long term relationship with the continent. 

Respect the people, the culture, the heritage and the unique things of the continent. Legacy and training people. Spend your money in the continent. It means we are here to serve the people. We are not here for an event to collect the money from the continent and to not come back. 

You also need to give them the best, the state of art of activation, using the most powerful tools. The last Africa Cup of Nations, we had cameras with virtual reality and we offered it on VIP stands and special events. You need to offer them unique experiences not like anywhere in the world. In 2017 we were experimenting with our partners and with CAF the most innovative solution. This is what the citizens of the continent deserve. The best solutions adaptable to the realities, but the best innovative solutions in the world. 

How to achieve successful sponsorship sales work? 

The main thing is to come to countries and your prospective clients on very humble manners. At any time you need to listen. This job is like helping corporations to be part of the solutions of the problem they have. It’s like going to the doctor: if he does not listen, how can he find what you have? And tailor made the solutions. The solutions should be on long-term basis and have added value for the commercial partner. 

On the team side, we have on the ground 44 service providers. These are local people that we train and meet very often. They are able to work with the affiliates of the commercial partners on the ground. They also feed us with information on the ground. This is a win-win program and one of our strength and added value. 

We have a global sales team. We aim to be able to look at all the needs of the commercial partners in the continents. We are globally able to tailor made solutions. 

What requirements do you have for the people who work in your sales team? 

To be open and to be interested in human beings. It’s not about being shy or not shy. When you meet somebody, you have to be curious. Sales is a human being attitude and to reinvent yourself deliberately. Human beings are easily stuck in their comfortable zones. This attitude comes from passion, curiosity and listening to others. That’s the basic elements and qualities that are needed for comfort zones to be challenged. 

In the marketing and business field, especially in sport business, the growth and changes are so quick that you have to adapt your product to the new habits of consumers. We need to listen, to watch, to get out of our comfortable zone, to identify these changes of attitudes from the consumers and to adapt our product before our competitors. 

The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation has just finished. It signifies more collaboration between China and Africa. What does it mean for you? 

The strong part of the message of the forum was to ask corporate and private sectors in China to invest on the relationship with the private sectors of Africa. Building facilities, roads, airport, stadium, etc. is important work, but you need human resources to run and manage it. To talk, collaborate and create solutions. The government of China asking the private sectors of China to invest in the private sectors of Africa is also a strong message because maybe we could be one of the tools of the private sector in China to help them enter some of the markets in Africa. Maybe this platform could be a solution. It’s up to us now to market it, to expand it and to offer it to Chinese private companies. 

Proofread by Raymond Fitzpatrick

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