Infront returns to Olympics rights sales in Africa in six-year deal
By Simon Ward
Infront, the international sports marketing agency, has agreed a new deal with the International Olympic Committee to distribute rights in sub-Saharan Africa to Olympic Games through to 2024.
The six-year arrangement announced today covers 46 territories and next year’s summer Olympics in Tokyo and winter Youth Olympics in Lausanne, the 2022 winter Olympics in Beijing, the 2022 Youth Olympics in Dakar and the 2024 summer Olympics in Paris.
The partnership builds on the deal that was in place between Infront and the IOC for the Sochi 2014 winter Olympics, the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympics and the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Switzerland-based Infront’s new remit includes exclusive free-to-air television, radio and digital rights, but not in South Africa where free-to-air rights are held by public-service broadcaster SABC, while SuperSport, the country’s leading subscription sports broadcaster, holds pay-TV rights across sub-Saharan Africa, in deals concluded back in 2017.
However, prominent Olympic nations such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Nigeria do form part of the deal, as does Senegal, as the host of the 2022 Youth Olympics, the first IOC games to be held in Africa.
Free-to-air and selected pay-TV and digital rights in sub-Saharan Africa to Olympic Games from 2018 to 2024 were originally awarded to Econet Media, the owner of the Kwesé TV channels, in July 2017, but, following discussions with the company, these subsequently reverted to the IOC.
Late last year, Econet shut down the pay-TV channels of Kwesé TV in order to focus on free-to-air outlet Kwesé Free Sports following a near-18 month struggle to meet contracted rights payments.
Infront, which is owned by China’s Wanda Group, will work with the IOC to produce a dedicated African feed for the Olympics with a focus on the continent’s best athletes, ensuring hundreds of hours of tailored programming. The feed will be produced by a team of 30 and feature live and delayed coverage and highlights of sports events and full coverage of the opening and closing ceremonies.
For next year’s Tokyo Olympics, Infront has committed to produce more than 200 hours of broadcast coverage, amounting to between six and 15 hours a day, in three languages for African broadcasters.
The latest deal further strengthens Infront’s presence in sub-Saharan Africa where it recently struck a deal to distribute free-to-air media rights to English soccer’s Premier League from 2019-20 to 2021-22 in more than 40 countries, including South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya.
As with the Premier League, the Olympics sales project will be managed by Infront’s recently-created Africa division with associate director of media rights Christophe Van Rothem leading the charge. Van Rothem joined Infront in February after seven years at the rival Lagardere agency where he focused on selling media rights in Africa.
Julien Ternisien, Infront vice-president summer sports, said today: “Our shared objective with the IOC is to maximise the reach of the Olympic Games and bring the unique stories to households across Sub-Saharan Africa. We feel the next five years will be an exciting time for the Olympic Movement in Africa, with Dakar 2022 providing one of many opportunities for Africa to illustrate its passion for the Games. Infront is delighted to deliver the high-quality service it is known for."
Timo Lumme, managing director of IOC television and marketing services, added: “Following our partnership for Rio and Sochi, we are pleased to be working again with Infront to bring the best Olympic Games coverage to Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2022, the Youth Olympic Games will be hosted for the first time in Africa, in Dakar, Senegal. With a young population, this is an important time for the development of the future of sport in Africa, and the IOC continues to redistribute 90 per cent of the revenue we generate through our commercial agreements to support sport around the world, including in Africa.”
The list of territories covered by the new deal includes: Angola; Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cameroon; Cape Verde; Central African Republic; Chad (non-exclusive free-to-air television and radio); Comoros; Congo; Côte d’Ivoire; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Djibouti (non-exclusive satellite television on a free basis and in the French language); Equatorial Guinea; Eritrea; Eswatini; Ethiopia; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Lesotho; Liberia; Madagascar; Malawi; Mali; Mauritius; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Rwanda; Sao Tome and Principe; Senegal; Seychelles; Sierra Leone; Tanzania; Togo; Uganda; Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Infront had been expected to return to the Olympics scene, with Bruno Marty, the agency’s vice-president winter sports, saying earlier this year that it was in talks with the IOC regarding rights to both summer and winter games in some markets.
However, he stressed that the company wanted to make sure that any deal made economic sense, pointing to the losses run up by Sportfive, an agency ultimately subsumed into Lagardere, on the European rights to the 2014 winter Olympics and 2016 Olympics, a contract Infront had also bid for.
Marty told Sportcal: “We are quite a conservative agency I would say. I don’t remember any cases where we overbid for some rights and then lost a lot of money afterwards. That probably means that in some cases we were not successful because we were too risk-averse and conservative, but in the long term this is still the better strategy than losing a lot of money on some key rights.
“But if Olympic rights would be on the market, we would certainly be interested.”
Last week, SuperSport demonstrated its commitment to the Olympics by launching an Olympic Channel section on its website in 45 territories, building on an existing content partnership with the IOC. The new section offers Olympic-themed programming from around the world, with an emphasis on African athletes, teams and sports.
In addition to locally-produced features created by SuperSport and social media content, visitors to the site will be able to watch Olympic-themed original series and documentaries produced by filmmakers from around the world commissioned by the IOC's Olympic Channel.