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Could The Next Michael Jordan Jump From Juba?

Basketball. It is fast-paced, popular, glamorous and packed with players from Africa. The talent export business is booming.

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More than 30 African players are shooting baskets in the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States and many more will soon be on their way.

Leading the hunt for talent is the towering figure of Amadou Gallo Fall, NBA Africa vice president for development in Africa, who is scouring the continent for the next Michael Jordan.

Amadou Gallo Fall

Fall has walked the winding road from Africa to the riches of the NBA. Born in Senegal, he was discovered by a Peace Corps worker and won a basketball scholarship to the United States. He played for the University of the District of Colombia in a 17-year career and also scouted for the Dallas Mavericks, who are the current NBA champions.

Six months ago, Fall set out for South Sudan, Africa’s newest country.

“We have a long-standing history with the country. The first NBA player from Africa to have had an impact on our league, who had a successful career and was well respected, was Manute Bol,” says Fall.

Bol was born in Turalei in South Sudan, where he grew up herding cattle. One of his most famed stories was how he once killed a lion with a spear to protect the herd.

Bol was literally someone to look up to as he stood 7ft 6ins tall and wore size 16 sneakers. He emigrated to the United States in 1982 and joined the Washington Bullets in 1985. He became not only the tallest player in the NBA, but the best shot blocker in the game. In retirement, Bol used to return often to South Sudan in a bid to heal the country after its civil war. Sadly, he died in Charlottesville, Virginia, in June 2010, aged 47, less than a year before his country assumed its statehood. He died of kidney disease caused by the complication of a rare skin complaint.

The Bol legacy survives in South Sudan, as does the basketball court where he shot his first ever basket, but there are precious few places where the young can embark on their hoop dreams.

Despite the lack of basketball courts, Fall believes the land is awash with fresh talent.

“The interest in the sport is definitely there and there is a fan base. We also need to develop the local expertise,” he says.

The question is: could the next Michael Jordan—or Manute Bol—spring from Juba?

“We want kids in Juba to aspire to reach for the highest level based on their potential. If we remain consistent in our engagement in South Sudan, develop infrastructure and build capacity by training coaches, there is no doubt that elite players will emerge but we are excited about the opportunity to use the game to impact on communities at large,” says Fall.

There is the NBA Cares program, which, since 2005, has spent over $150 million building more than 500 places where youngsters can play. Thirty-five of these are in Africa.

In Africa, it runs basketball clinics for youngsters between the ages of seven and 19.

The long and short of it; Manute Bol #10 of the Washington Bullets waits for the action to begin during the NBA game at the Capital Centre circa 1988 in Baltimore, Maryland

In the hunt for talent, Basketball Without Borders, held in Johannesburg this year, remains its flagship grassroots event on the continent. It brings together young basketball players from across Africa. One of the many programs set up since the NBA opened an office in Johannesburg in May 2010, with the hope of riding the sports wave created by the FIFA World Cup.

“Within the first 12 months, we signed a unique partnership with the Royal Bafokeng Nation that is making a real impact in the region in terms of the number of coaches and players whom we have actively helped. This is a good example of how we are impacting the game on a very local level, working with the community, building courts and providing playing opportunities,” Fall says.

South Africa is seen as a happy hunting ground for the NBA and Fall has big plans. He sees an opportunity to host NBA games here in future and talks of plans to set up a university league.

Television would be part of these plans and it appears the small screen is already helping spread the game of basketball in Africa.

NBA games, featuring 10 players from Africa, were broadcast to 55 African countries and territories, in five languages, during the 2010-11 season.

“In Africa there is tremendous potential for growth, but investment in the sport is crucial in order to tackle the accessibility issue and the scarcity of local coaching expertise. Given the huge athletic potential, there is no doubt that as the game grows, the business will grow too.

With the NBA having so many players from the continent it is a clear indication that talent exists in abundance,” says Fall.

Whilst South Sudan appears to be an incubator for talent, according to Fall, he is careful to also nod to Nigeria, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We definitely think South Sudan is up there too,” he smiles.

Bul Bior, from South Sudan, was at the basketball get-together in Johannesburg this year. With hard work and a little luck, maybe he could be the next Michael Jordan or Manute Bol.

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Roger Federer Tops World’s Highest-Paid Athletes: Tennis Ace Scores First No. 1 Payday With $106 Million

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Roger Federer has landed the top spot on the annual Forbes list of the highest-paid athletes for the first time this year with $106.3 million in pre-tax earnings. The Swiss ace is the first tennis player to take the No. 1 rank since the list debuted in 1990.

Federer’s haul includes $6.3 million in prize money and $100 million from endorsements and appearance fees, lifting him from the No. 5 spot he held in 2019 and beating his previous high of second place in 2013.

“His brand is pristine,” says David Carter, a sports business professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business, “which is why those that can afford to align with him clamor to do so.”

Federer’s endorsement portfolio is unmatched among active athletes, with 13 brands including Barilla, Moet & Chandon and Rimowa paying between $3 million and $30 million to associate themselves with the 20-time Grand Slam champ. The 38-year-old and golfer Tiger Woods are the only two active athletes to have hit $100 million in a single year from sponsorships alone.

Federer’s on-court résumé is the stuff of legend, with the men’s records for most Slam titles and most weeks ranked No. 1 (310). The consistency is staggering. He ranked in the top three for 750 straight weeks—almost 15 years—and qualified for 18 out of 19 Slam finals between 2005 and 2010.

Call it the Jordan playbook, the blueprint for global domination chronicled in ESPN’s ten-part documentary on the basketball great, The Last Dance: command a sport with a global audience for years; appeal to both men and women; stay out of trouble; add in a dose of swagger and a dash of charisma. It made Michael Jordan the richest athlete on the planet and the first billionaire athlete. Even in retirement, he continues to collect endorsement checks rivaling those of Federer and Woods thanks to his massive cut of Nike Jordan Brand sneaker sales.

The three breathe a rarefied air, reserved for the most elite competitors. Jordan had the No. 1 spot on the Forbes list six times during his 13-year career with the Chicago Bulls, eventually giving up the mantle to Woods after he retired from the Bulls in 1998. (Formula One’s Michael Schumacher held the crown for two years between Woods and Jordan.) Woods went on to collect more than $100 million annually off the course at his peak, landing at the top of Forbes’ highest-paid athlete ranking a record 12 times until he broke stride, landing in hot water over an infidelity scandal while injuries contributed to a decade-long majors title drought on the links.

Federer, while seizing the top spot late in his career, is showing no signs of slowing down. His latest partnership is with Swiss startup running shoe On, whose headquarters sit close to the new home the tennis star is building on Lake Zurich. A renowned sneakerhead, Federer will endorse the brand, whose sales have been doubling annually since its 2010 launch, and also invested in the company in return for an equity stake that one source called “significant,” a partnership that could have serious upside for Federer.

Another sign of his command of the off-court side hustle: Once companies align themselves with him, they almost never leave. Rolex, Credit Suisse, Mercedes-Benz and Wilson have all been on Team Fed for more than a decade. The exception? Jordan’s Nike.

Federer stunned the tennis world in 2018 when he split from the sneaker giant after 20 years and joined with apparel brand Uniqlo. The chain, part of Fast Retailing, made an offer he couldn’t turn down, promising $300 million over ten years whether he was playing tennis or not and leaving open a slot for a shoe deal like the one with On since the Japanese giant doesn’t make sneakers.

The length and terms of the deal raised eyebrows given that Federer was about to turn 37 when he signed it. At that age, almost all tennis players have long since retired—a detail that meant little to the long game the retailer is eyeing.

“We feel the greatest impact of Roger Federer is yet to come,” says Uniqlo’s head of global creative John Jay. “Of course, it will be fueled by his status as the greatest of all time, but Roger’s ability to bring positive change to the world is his future and ours.”

The company hopes Federer can hold the same kind of appeal Jordan still has long after he launched his last jump shot. Already, tennis clubs in Europe are flooded with kids wearing “RF” hats, the logo that Nike controlled for two years after the split but is back in Federer’s hands and is the foundation for future licensing deals.

It wasn’t his only shrewd move. Federer took more control of his brand when he left the IMG sports firm with longtime agent Tony Godsick to launch their own operation in 2013, dubbed TEAM8. Current clients include male tennis pros Juan Martin del Potro and Alexander Zverev, 16-year-old rising star Coco Gauff and New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. TEAM8 also found success with the creation of a new annual event, the Laver Cup, which matches a team from Europe versus the rest of the world in a competition that is comparable to golf’s Ryder Cup.

Federer has other levers in the sport that even Jordan doesn’t have. He is a hot commodity for organizers of smaller tournaments that pay appearance fees for top players to show up; a men’s event without one of the Big Three—Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic—is a tough sell. Federer commands the top rate of more than $1 million per stop. Then there are the exhibition tours—a mix of tennis and show business—in places that have no major event to offer. He did a five-stop swing through Latin America in November that added more than $15 million to his bank account, including a match versus Zverev in a bullfighting stadium in Mexico City that attracted 42,517 fans, a record to watch a tennis match.

Federer has used his platform and cash to focus on educating children in Africa, with his namesake foundation spending $52 million to aid 1.5 million kids. He’s teamed with Bill Gates in charity matches three times; the latest “Match for Africa” featured Gates and Federer versus Nadal and The Daily Show host Trevor Noah in South Africa, where Federer’s mother was born. The February event raised $3.7 million.

Federer is the GOAT, both on and off the court.

Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes Staff, SportsMoney

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Making South Africa Proud And His Inspiration Outside The Pool

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Chad le Clos; image by Gian Mattia D'Alberto LaPresse

Swimming sensation Chad le Clos had planned on returning from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics with gold but with the games postponed, he’s for now focusing on family, fitness and his foundation.

For many athletes, the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to 2021 has meant stalled training regimes. South Africa’s 28-year-old Olympic gold medalist swimmer Chad le Clos, at home in the coastal town of Durban while in lockdown in South Africa, says this year, he had hoped to return from the Olympics with another gold medal.

“I planned on hopefully winning a gold medal and coming back home and celebrating with the country. I was planning on doing a lot of great things this year. It is quite sad but I am looking at the bigger picture. There are a lot of things I want to achieve inside and outside of the pool. The Olympics is the biggest goal I will ever have. And hopefully, I can make South Africa proud next year.”

Posing in front of his haul of medals at home in Durban, in a Zoom interview with FORBES AFRICA, Le Clos, who was also one of FORBES AFRICA’s 30 Under 30 list-makers in 2019, says he is waiting to get back into the pool.

“Before the lockdown in South Africa, I was away in Europe training. For the last five weeks, I have not been able to train but I was very lucky to spend time with a family friend on his farm on 36 acres of land with horses and dogs, so I was mostly training outdoors.”

The sports star, who is also recovering from two recent surgeries, says swimming is different from any other sport.

“As a runner or athlete, you can run, but as a swimmer, you need to have that feel of the water. It’s a very different fitness. I am a terrible runner, I can’t run at all. But when I am in the pool, I can be as fit as I can… So focus is important, once you lose that feel, it will take weeks to get back to that fitness.”

Le Clos, who has been swimming competitively from the age of 10 and is a 17-time Commonwealth Games medalist, speaks about the Chad le Clos Foundation and the special projects coming up in the townships also serving underprivileged communities.

How about becoming an entrepreneur at some point, we ask in this interview.

“I don’t want to close any doors. I want to dive into everything head on. Right now, my big focus is the Olympics. I am in a great mental head space. My family is the most important thing and they are safe. Once swimming has firmly shut, I will focus on the next chapter and it will be some sort of business. I have a lot of passion projects like I have said with my foundation…”

Le Clos says he has looked up to swimmer Michael Phelps his whole life (and even beat him at the age of 20 by 0.05 seconds at the 2012 Olympics in London in the men’s 200meters butterfly), but the iconic boxer Muhammad Ali is his “ultimate idol”.

“For what he stood for, the greatest boxer of all time, he was the people’s champion. I am not as outspoken as he was, but I have always seen myself too as a people’s champion, I have seen myself swimming for my family, my people and my country. Muhammad Ali is my hero and icon. And my big inspiration outside of the pool.”

During the lockdown, besides “playing a lot of poker with my family and losing”, it has also been a good time to reflect.

“I like to visualize positive things. As a kid, I always visualized success, the Olympics, the gold medal, you create that moment, and let that percolate. The more positives you put out are the positives you will get back. Focus on the positives. During this time, make yourself stronger mentally. You can come out of this stronger, and it will help you going forward.”

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Naomi Osaka Is The Highest-Paid Athlete Ever, Topping Serena Williams

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The 22-year-old Japanese tennis player racked up $37 million in earnings in the past year, more than any other female athlete in history.

Naomi Osaka was only a year old when Serena Williams won her first grand slam title in 1999. Nineteen years later, Osaka beat Williams at the U.S. Open finals to win her first grand slam. It was one of the most controversial matches in Open history involving three code violations called against Williams. Now the 22-year-old ace has beaten her legendary rival once again, this time for bragging rights as the highest-paid female athlete in the world.

Osaka earned $37.4 million the last 12 months from prize money and endorsements, $1.4 million more than Serena, setting an all-time earnings record for any female athlete in a single year; Maria Sharapova held the prior record with $29.7 million in 2015.

Osaka ranks No. 29 among the 100 highest-paid athletes, while Williams is No. 33. It’s the first time since 2016 that two women have made the ranks of the top 100 highest paid athletes, with the full 2020 list set for release next week.

“To those outside the tennis world, Osaka is a relatively fresh face with a great back story,” says David Carter, a sports business professor at USC Marshall School of Business. “Combine that with being youthful and bicultural, two attributes that help her resonate with younger, global audiences, and the result is the emergence of a global sports marketing icon.”

The ascension puts an end to a decisive winning streak for Williams, who has been the world’s highest-paid female athlete each of the past four years, with annual pre-tax income ranging from $18 million to $29 million. The 23-time grand slam champion has collected almost $300 million during her career from endorsers who have swarmed the 38-year-old star.

Osaka’s rise to the head of the charts was a perfect  convergence of several factors. She first proved herself on the court, with back-to-back grand slam titles at the 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open. That plus her heritage—a Japanese mother and Haitian-American father—helped separate her from the pack; at only 20 when she won her Open title, she had a cool factor and engaging personality.

Osaka’s roots are crucial to her endorsement stardom. She was born in Japan. When she was three, she and her family moved to the U.S., settling on Long Island and then heading to Florida; older sister, Mari, also plays on the pro circuit.

She turned pro in 2014, a month before her 16th birthday. She cracked the WTA’s top 40 in 2016 and won her first title in March 2018 at Indian Wells. In the 12 months that followed, she became the first Japanese player to win a slam, and first Asian tennis player ever to be ranked No. 1 in the world.

Osaka maintains dual citizenship but made the wise choice to represent Japan ahead of the since-postponed Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. The decision made her an even hotter commodity for Olympic sponsors, like Procter & Gamble, All Nippon Airways and Nissin, who signed endorsement deals with Osaka to use her around marketing for the Games, now scheduled for summer 2021. She is expected to be one of the faces of the Olympics that had triggered unprecedented levels of excitement among the Japanese public before the coronavirus.

A Decade Of Highest-Paid Female Athletes

Tennis has been a winning strategy for highest-paid female athletes. Before Naomi Osaka arrived on the scene, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams were the top earning women of the decade, holding the top spot for five and four years, respectively.

The last top-earning female athlete, outside of Williams and Sharapova, was Serena’s sister Venus in 2003. Tennis remains the only route for women to rank among the top-paid male sports stars. Sharapova, Li Na, Serena, and now Osaka are the only females to rank among the 100 top earners in sports since 2012. The highest-paid female athlete every year since Forbes started tracking the data in 1990 has been a tennis player, with Steffi Graf and Martina Hingis the top earners most of the 1990s. 

Tennis players are walking billboards in the only major global sport where men and women have some level of equality in their paychecks, thanks to similarly sized audiences tuning in to watch tournaments. Prize money at the four grand slam events has been even since 2007, although men still earn more at lower level tourneys.

The demographics of the tennis fan make sponsoring top players attractive for brands. At the U.S. Open last year, attendance skewed in favor of women by a ratio of 56 to 44, a rarity at big time sporting events; 78% held at least a bachelor’s degree versus 35% for the U.S. overall; the average household income was $216,000. This is a group with significant disposable income, ready to buy apparel, sporting equipment, cars, watches and financial services.

Steering Osaka’s brand is tennis powerhouse agency IMG, which leaned on its history with breakout female tennis stars when Osaka started blowing up, having represented Maria Sharapova and Li. Stuart Duguid is her lead agent at IMG.

The apparel deal is almost always the biggest endorsement for tennis stars, and Osaka’s timing was perfect there as well, as she hit the open market just after winning two grand slams. It triggered a free agency bidding war between Nike and Adidas—her previous apparel sponsor. The Swoosh emerged on top and paid her more than $10 million last year in an agreement that runs through 2025.

Osaka secured an extremely rare but lucrative provision in her Nike contract. The sportswear giant always requires its tennis players to be clad in Nike gear from head to toe, without any other logos on their shirts or hats. This is lucrative real estate for marketers, as cameras focus closely on the player as they serve or get set to return serve.

Nike never made an exemption for Serena, Sharapova, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi or any of the other marketable tennis stars in their stable. The only exception until last year was China’s Li Na; Osaka was the second, thanks to massive leverage with Sharapova headed for retirement and Williams turning 39 this year. Her “patch” deals are with All Nippon Airways, MasterCard and ramen noodle maker Nissin Foods.

Nike plans to launch an Osaka streetwear line in Japan in the fourth quarter, featuring hoodies, leggings and shirts, as well as a new collection each season. There will not be any tennis apparel.

Osaka now has 15 endorsement partners, including global brands like Nissan Motor, Shiseido and Yonex, whose tennis racquets she has used for more than a decade; almost all are worth seven-figures annually. 

Sharapova was 17 when she defeated Williams to win the 2004 Wimbledon crown. IMG quickly mobilized to lock up lucrative long-term deals for the Russian, who ranked as the highest-paid female athlete for 11 years before injuries and a suspension for taking a banned substance dented her earnings.

IMG got an education on marketing a female Asian tennis star with China’s Li. She was the first grand slam singles champion from Asia, man or woman, when she captured the 2011 French Open at age 29. IMG quickly secured seven multi-million deals, pushing her off-court earnings from $2 million to $20 million. She challenged Sharapova as the sport’s top earner until her retirement in 2014.

IMG used its expertise in Japan with Kei Nishikori, who has never won a grand slam but is the most successful Japanese male player ever, resulting in an endorsement portfolio worth $30 million a year.

Sharapova, Li and Nishikori paved the way for Osaka’s marketing breakthrough. “We were fortunate to have a very sophisticated office in Tokyo that already had the experience with Kei,” IMG’s head of tennis Max Eisenbud told Forbes last year. “The relationships in that region are important.”

With plenty of endorsement cash, Osaka partnered with several brands last year, with significant equity components, including emerging sports drink BodyArmor and Hyperice, which makes recovery and movement products.

BodyArmor marketing exec Mike Fedele says Osaka was one of inspirations for its “Only You” ad campaign launched this week. “Naomi is fiercely dedicated to perfecting her game on the court and a huge part of that is what she does off the court with her training, nutrition and hydration,”he says.

“I’m really interested in seeing a young business grow and adding value to that process,” Osaka told Forbes last year. “I tasked my team with finding brands that align with my personality and my interests.”

Brands are lining up to get into the Naomi Osaka business.

Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes Staff, SportsMoney

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