The booming global popularity of NFL gridiron football is no accident. North America’s highest professional gridiron league is enjoying an unprecedented reach across all populated regions of the world. Africa is no exception.
The NFL has much to gain from a continent of 54 countries and 1.2 billion people.
It’s a road traveled before by a foreign sports league. The English Premier league enjoys an active fanbase of more than 260 million African fans.
The NFL’s popularity hasn’t achieved that level of fanaticism on the continent, but it may someday.
Here’s a look at four reasons why the NFL is making significant inroads with African audiences.
African Players in the NFL Ranks
Three players selected from the US college ranks in the 2016 NFL Draft hail from Lagos, Nigeria. The same number of draftees that year called Chicago, Illinois-America’s third most populous city-home.
This fact underscores the trend of African gridiron players developing the requisite skills to play in the NFL.
Since kicker Simon Mwitkuta appeared with the Dallas Cowboys in 1970 as the first African-born player to enter an NFL game, a succession of gridiron footballers representing 18 African countries has cracked the league. They come from Nigeria-the continent’s most populous nation-to Gambia, one of the smallest.
The 2019 NFL season included 22 players born in Africa, including nine Nigerians, three from each of Liberia and Cameroon, and two from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Current and former African players to reach the NFL stand as global ambassadors of gridiron football. They inspire new generations to love the sport and become involved.
Growing Gridiron Football Participation
Encouraging playership is perhaps the best way for a sport to take hold in a non-native nation. This is oftentimes a formidable undertaking, as opportunities to play the sport must be made widely available in a place where none previously existed.
A few Americans with strong gridiron credentials are taking up the challenge in Africa. In 2011, the Nigerian Institute of American Football (NAIF) was founded at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in Zaria, Nigeria. The institution raises awareness of gridiron football with training clinics for coaches and academy camps for student players.
The NAIF is the brainchild of Daryl Hayes, a gridiron coach at Shepherd University of West Virginia, Ricardo Dickerson, a former running back with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, and Gregory Hendricks.
The trio envisions an evolution of the NAIF in three stages…
The first is to introduce the basics of gridiron to Nigerian coaches and players as they get comfortable competing. The second is to generate enough talent to field an intercollegiate team representing ABU. The third step is seeing ABU’s gridiron team compete against other top universities in Africa and perhaps internationally.
The NAIF is not alone. Amadi Chukwuema founded the American Football for Africa Mission in 2010 with assistance from the US Embassy. Chukwuema is an ABU alumnus and gridiron coach who has trained more than 2,000 Nigerians in gridiron. His self-professed dream is to see gridiron football rival all existing sports in Africa.
Thriving Availability at Worldwide Sportsbooks
Sports betting is part of the calculus behind the NFL’s growing interest among Africans living on the continent and internationally. Punters in many nations find NFL matches available at local sportsbooks.
Now, with the American betting market expanding, Africans living abroad in the US can wager on different NFL bets, like point spreads, total points, halftimes scores, or props.
While regulations and guidelines vary by nation, sports betting, on the whole, is increasingly popular in Africa. An estimated 60 million adults in Nigeria alone are active sports bettors. Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo also boast growing communities of punters.
The regulations of some African countries permit large sportsbooks from Europe to conduct local business-primarily those licensed by the Malta Gaming Authority. European sportsbooks have carried NFL contests for years and bring their expertise in the sport to markets in Africa.
NFL football is far from the most wagered sport in Africa-that distinction goes to soccer. Still, major bookmakers operating in the continent provide bets on NFL games, including the Super Bowl, the single biggest sporting event in the world when measured by dollars wagered.
Streaming Reaches Broad Audiences
The online streaming revolution is bringing NFL coverage to places once unimagined by the league. Historically, games were seen on just a few US-based TV networks.
Nowadays, via the official NFL Game Pass, the league brings its competitions to everywhere in the world that has an internet connection. This service streams all 256 regular-season contests, the playoffs, and the Super Bowl. Subscribers can even re-watch games on-demand shortly after each live broadcast ends.
African fans with VPN services are likely able to access additional NFL streaming options on servers in the US or Europe.