Latest News Editor's Choice

Sports / Other

Africa on the Radar for NFL's International Hopes

by Staff Writer
17 Nov 2022 at 12:03hrs | Views
The NFL is one of the biggest sports leagues in the world - and one of the most lucrative. In 2021, around 17 million Americans watched the league regularly, while around 110 million viewers tune in live for the league's championship match. On top of these figures, the NFL is also home to the world's most valuable sports team, the Dallas Cowboys.

For some, American football is viewed as an ingrained part of the culture. Along with NCAA college football, professional football is one of the country's most popular sports. Each year, sportsbooks offer lines on Super Bowl winner odds, marking one of the most popular bets in the league. Meanwhile, companies like CBS host free fantasy football leagues that run alongside the live season.

There are dozens of ways to interact with the league, however, as most people living outside of North America know - the sport is a regional phenomenon. That means most people worldwide are more likely to follow soccer, cricket, rugby, or another international sport.

Despite the high numbers associated with NFL viewership and the league's deep pockets, most fans are located inside the US. By default, this also limits the number of international football players that enter the league. Compared to the MLB, NHL, and NBA, the NFL sees a lower proportion of international players.

However, the NFL is looking to change that. This year, the league launched its first official camp in Ghana, designed to introduce football hopefuls to the sport and provide crucial infrastructure to develop local talent.
NFL Hosts Developmental Camp
In spring 2022, the NFL announced plans to launch a camp in Ghana's capital of Accra in June. The project was headed by Cleveland Browns linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who is a first-generation Ghanaian. The camp was even endorsed early on by vice president Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia.

The event was named NFL Africa: The Touchdown. The goal was to include a talent identification camp, a flag football event, and a fan meet-and-greet period. As mentioned above, the NFL's limited exposure abroad means that international players are less likely to join a roster - but it also means they might not understand the game's ins and outs.

Compared to other sports, the NFL can be complicated. Separate offensive and defensive teams are composed of players who compete in highly specialized positions. For example, a wide receiver, tackle, and quarterback all play on the offensive team - but each has a very different role to play.

Many African players who end up in the NFL face a daunting period of learning the ropes. Some, like Obinna Eze, an offensive tackle for the Detroit Lions, didn't participate in this year's event in Ghana. However, the Nigerian-born player was happy to hear that the program was running.

Since starting his career in football seven years ago, Eze has faced difficult stretches where he had to learn about the sport from a technical and theoretical perspective quickly. For Eze, the NFL's camp in Ghana would have helped him learn the ropes a bit faster.
Heading (Back) to West Africa
Shortly after the NFL announced the Touchdown program, the project hit headlines and gained interest among other NFL stars of African descent. What began with Owusu-Koramoah expanded to include other NFL leaders, including Uchenna Nwosu (Seattle Seahawks, Nigeria), Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (Houston Texans, Nigeria), Kwit Paye (Indianapolis Colts, Liberia), Roman Oben (retired, Cameroon), Mathias Kiwanuka (retired, Uganda), and Osi Umenyiora (retired, Nigeria).

For Umenyiora, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the New York Giants, bringing football to Africa fulfills a lifelong dream. Along with helping young talents learn the game quicker, Umenyiora also points to the opportunities that surround football. In other words, the NFL and similar leagues aren't just looking for players, but also coaches, trainers, and even nutritionists.

Along with these types of resource-based infrastructure and career training, the NFL's programs in Africa will also look to impart ‘football fundamentals' like teamwork and sportsmanship.

The Pipeline: Accra to London to the US
The NFL's training camp in Ghana is Umenyiora's first official project with the NFL in Africa - but it's far from his first. Since retiring from the NFL, the former star has since set up and run camps in Nigeria, South Africa, and Ghana. The NFL networked with Umenyiora to select top projects who were then invited to the camp in Accra.

Seen in this way, the training camp had a huge reach throughout western and southern Africa. From there, a loose pipeline has already been established. Through Umenyiora's regional training camps, top prospects can then be funneled to the NFL's official program in Accra or the NFL's International Combine (held in London).

Players who outperform their peers in both stand a chance for the NFL's International Player program, which is designed to provide resources to players with a bright future in the sport. Recently, the NFL also launched an official academy in London, which provides further infrastructure for players heading into college.

So far, three African players have signed contracts on NFL teams thanks to this pipeline. Starting with Umenyiora's camps, known as The Uprise; Chigbo Roy Mbaeteka, Kehinde Oginni Hassan, and Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi have signed with the Giants, Cardinals, and Chiefs, respectively. All three players were born in Nigeria.  
An International Series & International Combines
The NFL's push into West Africa is far from its first project abroad. In recent years, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has pushed for international expansion. The league recently rolled out new media rights, which assigns all 32 teams a geographic region where they can target fan growth. Meanwhile, the NFL is also launching exhibitions and regular season games in places like Mexico, the UK, and Germany.

But, as in Africa, the NFL isn't just looking to build a fan base. It's looking to expand the reach of its recruitment process. Along with exhibitions and regular season games, the NFL has also rolled out more combines. A combine is a training session designed to highlight the talent of players, including their speed, catching, throwing, tackling, and other valued qualities.

Source - Byo24News