Internationally, the word football brings to mind European teams like Barcelona and Liverpool, as well as global competitions like the FIFA World Cup. Not many sports fans would immediately think of the US’s National Football League. Instead, it’s known as American football.
Though it pales in comparison to football’s popularity, the NFL is the US’s biggest league. Around 66,000 spectators attend each game on average, while season remote viewers tally similar numbers—and that’s only for regular-season games.
The Super Bowl is the NFL’s most-watched event. Earlier this year, the championship game brought in around 112 million viewers nationwide, according to broadcaster NBC. The showdown is so big that Super Bowl promos are available year-round, and even include prop bets on non-sports results like the halftime performance.
In other words, the NFL doesn’t just boil down to sport, but also culture. Today, NFL rosters include a range of African players, from Howard Simon Mwikuta of Zambia to Ndamukong Suh of Cameroon to Ezekiel Ansah of Ghana. Their presence is changing the future of the NFL, which is starting to branch out with interest in Africa.
Ghana Welcomes NFL Scouting Camp
In early April, the NFL announced it would host a camp in Accra, Ghana in June 2022. The idea is to bring on other NFL players from the region, including the Cleveland Browns linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Osi Umenyiora, a former player for the New York Giants with two Super Bowl titles under his belt.
Umenyiora, who has Nigerian ancestry, said hosting the camp has been a dream for him. He’s been eager to bring opportunities to develop American football talent to Africa. Aside from helping host the upcoming NFL camp, Umenyiora has also founded The Uprise, which hosts football camps in Western Africa.
The Uprise has worked as an unofficial scouting program for the NFL. Through it, Umenyiora helped push three Nigerian athletes into the US’s International Player Pathway program for football.
Building on the NFL’s International Series Push
Building a training camp in Accra is just one of the NFL’s recent pushes to gain international traction. The other pushes, including the NFL’s International Series and the expansion of home marketing rights, are designed to build new fans.
The camp in Accra is actually designed to support more American football infrastructure abroad so that budding players have the resources to help develop their skills. Damani Leech, NFL Chief Operation Officer for International Events, said the camp is designed to showcase local prospects who may struggle to find visibility. It’s designed to be a path forward for those who want a chance to compete in the NFL someday.
However, performing well and sticking out to scouts won’t be a direct pathway for the programs built by Leech in Africa. Instead, players will go the same route as those developed in Umenyiora’s The Uprise: first, to the NFL Academy in London, then possibly to the US. The NFL is also hosting showcases in the UK, Australia, and Germany, in addition to Ghana.
Looking at BAL?
The NFL’s latest pushes to help provide infrastructure and resources to American football players in Africa closely mirrors previous pushes from the NBA. In 2021, the NBA helped build the Basketball Africa League (BAL), which is a continent-wide premier domestic basketball competition that replaced FIBA’s Africa Basketball League.
The new league (a joint effort between NBA and FIBA) features huge sponsors, including Nike, Air Jordan, and Pepsi. In summer 2021, former US President Barack Obama was also named as a strategic partner. Since the first season concluded last year, the BAL has slowly built a following across Africa.
The BAL, which includes a Nile and Sahara Conference, isn’t designed as an NBA recruiting series. Instead, the league is designed to support local basketball and create a unique sporting culture outside the NBA and FIBA. Looking (far) into the future, could the NFL’s first camps be a signal that an American football league might also someday become a reality?