Xavi has just got the ball from Sergio Busquets; Casillas makes the run to the edge of the penalty area as he receives the ball, dribbles past one opponent before playing a through-ball for Zidane, who lays it on for Iniesta on the left wing. Iniesta curls in a cross; Christiano Ronaldo rises at the far post to meet it with a powerful header –goal! The stadium erupts in thunderous cheer with cameras synchronizing in a blinding daze of flashes.
Unfortunately, this is not the commentary for a charity match with legendary players from the upper strata of football. There are no cameras in sight and instead of pristine, beautifully landscaped Astro Turf, we have sandy and rocky grounds.
Representing their icons are Obinna ‘Xavi’, Balo ‘Sergio Busquets’, Tola ‘Casillas’, Dayo ‘Zidane’ and Kola ‘Ronaldo’. We are in Lagos, Nigeria, watching the final game between two under-17 teams in the local league cup. The winner gets bragging rights as well as some products from a local FCMG brand.
Football is an overwhelming moment of beauty, spirit and pride and in the most populous country in Africa, that passion is palpable. Gianni Infantino, FIFA President, who was in Lagos at the maiden edition of the AITEO-Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) Awards this year, summed up this love perfectly.
“I was told that in Nigeria, football is passion, but it is a lie because it is more than that. In Nigeria, I was told that football is love, but it is a lie it is more than that. In Nigeria, I was told that football is a religion, but it is a lie. It is more than that. In Nigeria, football is life,” he says in his opening address to a room full of corporate executives, the upper echelons of power in government as well as the hall of fame of Nigerian football.
“Football is also business; when we can harness it properly, a lot of money can be made for the country through the game.”
The country’s love affair with the sport has blossomed over the years into an obsessive relationship. At a buka (local restaurant) in Surulere, a waiter is nearly slapped by an angry fan when he mistakenly changes the channel from a game between Chelsea and Man U to Soundcity, the indigenous 24-hour music channel that is a favorite of most of its diners.
After a heated exchange, the manager apologizes for the interruption and the game is back on. Commonsense is restored. Although this is a repeat match, the men watch intensely with the same passion and vigor of a live game.
“We found that football is the main pull for customers to our restaurant. They are passionate about football. It has turned into a family. Our customers come from all over Lagos to watch the games and once they are here, they have to eat and drink so it’s a win-win for us,” says Nnamdi Mayowa, owner of the restaurant.
As he speaks, a cheer rings out from outside the restaurant. Hordes of football fans have gathered to also catch a glimpse of the action and as any good football story goes, it all began with the kick of the ball in 1945.
That year, the Nigerian Football Federation was introduced as the governing body for the sport. Nigeria subsequently began participating in Africa’s Challenge Cup in the 1960s. Since then, the national team known affectionately as ‘The Super Eagles’, have had a fair number of successes. They won bronze medals in the 1978 and 1979 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) and in 1980, they won the championship in Lagos.
In 1984 and 1988, Nigeria subsequently captured silver medals in the tournament. Football had come to stay and with it a number of international stars were born and shipped to some of the world’s most successful football clubs with lucrative deals.
Then came the dark years. In 2010, Nigeria finished bottom of their group in South Africa with just one point from three matches after losing to Argentina and Greece and drawing with South Korea. In response, the then President Goodluck Jonathan banned the team from competing in the sport for two years. Then followed their exit at the 2014 World Cup where they lost to France, and a subsequent failure to qualify for the 2015 and 2017 editions of the AFCON. Nigerian football morale was at an all-time low.
Finally, a shimmer of light emerged at the end of the tunnel. The Super Eagles breezed through their group stage of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers to earn a spot as one of only five African countries to make it to Russia 2018.
They were unbeaten in six matches with four wins and two draws, scoring 12 goals and only conceding four times, an incredible feat that took the team, led by German tactician, Gernot Rohr, to their sixth FIFA World Cup.
For Nigerians of this era, there is no sporting moment more significant than this triumph, especially as it is achieved against a backdrop of a sputtering economy that has gripped the country since the fall in crude oil prices and the Foreign Exchange (FX) fiasco of 2016 and 2017. The 2019 elections are also on the horizon and with it, greater economic uncertainty for Nigerians. The country has been increasingly marred by public dissent reflecting the mounting anger over an absentee president. To make matters worse, Nigeria has more than 300 tribes, making a consensus of any kind at the best of times, almost impossible to reach.
“We call football the unifying factor. When Nigeria is playing everyone comes together, we forget our tribes, we forget our differences, we even forget our religion. We all hug together when we do well and we all sulk together when we lose. Football is also business; when we can harness it properly, a lot of money can be made for the country through the game,” says Akin Alabi, founder of NairaBET, a leader in a wide range of betting opportunities on all sports.
Having attended two World Cups, South Africa in 2010 and Brazil in 2014, Alabi firmly has his eyes set on Russia.
“I want them to get to a quarter appearance. That will be the best-case scenario for me because I do not think we have gotten further than that,” he says.
However, he is quick to point out that this is not Nigeria’s strongest team.
“I think our 1994 team was fantastic. We do not have the caliber of players we had then, but no one has the perfect team out there. This is a national team and not like pro football where you can take money and buy whichever player you want. You have to make do with those that are available from the country you are from. So we are hoping it goes well,” says Alabi.
He believes the prospects of an African country actually bringing back the cup is far-fetched. Countries like Germany for example have a well-oiled football development machine, which helps them churn out a lot of quality players, which any African team cannot match right now.
“The German team is called a German machine for a reason, they have a well-oiled team and continuity. Their manager has been there for years on various World Cups so everything is run professionally. In Nigeria and Africa, when it is time for a match, we just invite players to run and play so that cannot work. We need better development in terms of processes,” says Alabi.
However, Brian Okonkwo is adamant Nigeria will go all the way to the finals. But then again, he would be. As a member of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club, he has dedicated his life to the advancement of the sport that saved his life as a troubled youth.
“When I was younger I used to be in an armed robbery gang and we did a lot of bad things to innocent people. I was on a fast track to jail or death but luckily, someone from my family was able to help me turn over a new leaf by introducing me to football,” says Okonkwo.
He has been present in all Nigeria’s five World Cup appearances in the past.
“I think we have everything it takes to bring this home for our people, the team simply needs the support of the country behind them and that is our job. We are with them all the way and we need the resources to enable us to do our job,” says Okonkwo.
According to the Club’s National Chairman, Samuel Ikpea, the club will take 1,000 people to Russia to cheer and support the Super Eagles. This means 1,000 visa applications, 1,000 hotel rooms and 1,000 mouths to feed for the duration of the Russia 2018 tournament.
“Football is a passion of the nation and we do this job out of love for the sport. We have been in this business for a long time and we are already sourcing for funds to ensure that we get to Russia. Unfortunately, it is difficult because we have not been able to receive any funds from the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) or the ministry of sports since this new government came,” says Ikpea.
According to Ikpea, this differs to the previous government who invested $140,000 to help them cover expenses to support the Super Eagles in the last World Cup.
“Teams like Nigeria come into the World Cup and historically something happens. They look great in the qualifiers then everything falls apart, something happens with the federation, somebody doesn’t get paid and now all of a sudden this team is in disarray going into the competition,” says Marcus Dawson, a sports commentator for Metro TV.
In the absence of adequate infrastructure, and in spite of the paucity of training facilities, football is played on streets, paths or fields. The potential of the sport has not been realized in the country due to the lack of support from corporate organizations that only see football as a CSR initiative instead of a lucrative business venture.
As a result, the NFF is fighting to ensure the team has adequate resources to efficiently compete in Russia. According to Amaju Pinnick, President of the NFF, the organization is working on generating $2.8 million for the Super Eagles’ participation in the games.
“Failure is not an option in the FIFA World Cup and we need to come together to ensure we provide the team with everything they need to make it through,” says Pinnick.
The organization receives support from private organizaitons like Aiteo who have a focus on developing the quality of football in Nigeria. So far, Aiteo has paid the sum of $600,000 and $890,000 to cover its contractual obligation of providing support to the technical crew of the Super Eagles for the whole of 2018, well beyond the World Cup, according to Deputy Managing Director, Francis Peters.
This however pales in comparison to investment in sports by their European counterparts. In a little more than a decade, Germany has invested nearly $1 billion in its youth soccer programs, with academies run by professional teams and training centers overseen by the national soccer association, the Deutscher Fussball Bund, according to a report in The New York Times.
Also of grave concern was the issue of the selection process for the team, which sparked widespread debates across the country. Like the case of Sone Aluko, a professional football player, who is a striker for Fulham FC but could not make it on the coveted team shortlist.
“The NFF is not responsible for making the selection of who joins the team. That is the decision of the coach. I know the story of Sone but unfortunately we are just focused on getting the team ready for Russia 2018,” says Pinnick.
Colin Udoh, a leading journalist and sports presenter, shares his insights on the team selection methodology used by the coach.
“It is the coach that selects not the federation even though they have some sway in the decision but ultimately it is the call of the coach. But yes, Sunday Oliseh, who was the previous coach, said he likes to pick players from the top division and I think most coaches in Nigeria want players who are playing at the highest level and the very best in the world rather than those playing in the lower division,” he says.
Secondly, Udoh claims that most European coaches like Rohr will not admit this is what they do. An additional criteria, which Rohr has also added to this team’s selection process evident in the team representing the Super Eagles, is the attempt to lower the average age of the players to 23 years except for John Mikel Obi, Leon Balogun and the goalkeeper where he is trying to integrate a bit of experience into team. So on these two key criteria, most players like Aluko unfortunately will fall out of contention.
“He is not in the top division and he also happens to be 28 years. I would pick him in a heartbeat but unfortunately I am not the coach. If you look at the way the team have qualified for the World Cup, you cannot argue with the results. Apart from that one loss against South Africa, Rohr has masterminded the success of the team to qualify for the World Cup and it is going to be hard to argue with that result,” adds Udoh.
It has been a long road to get here. Nigeria could qualify through the group stages by having the best balance of exciting promise and solidity. In every nook and cranny, and from every social stratum and walk of life, one thing is undeniable, and that is the game of football permeates every aspect of Nigerian culture, and Russia 2018 is another opportunity for the country to put away the differences and unite for this all-important goal.
After all, football in Nigeria is life.
Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics Officially Postponed Due To Coronavirus
Toplines: After a slew of calls to postpone due to the risks of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, Japan and the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday announced it would delay the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics until 2021, making it the first time the Games have been moved outside of World War I and II.
- Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he had agreed with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to delay the world’s biggest sporting event until next year. “I proposed to postpone for about a year and IOC president Thomas Bach responded with 100% agreement,” Abe said.
- Speculation that the Olympics would be postponed escalated on Monday after Abe said, “If it is difficult to hold the games in such a way, we have to decide to postpone them, giving top priority to the well-being of the athletes.”
- Senior IOC member Dick Pound told USA Today that “On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided… The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”
- It’s a move that was widely expected given the hundreds of conferences, festivals and sporting events affected by the pandemic across the globe, as well as mounting criticism levied at the IOC and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by players and fans, the latter of which voted overwhelmingly in a public poll conducted by Kyodo News to delay the Games.
- Much of the criticism wasn’t focused on the possible safety of the event itself, which was set to begin on July 24 until August 9, but the risk to athletes presently as they attempted to train for the Games while adhering to lockdowns and social distancing practices in their home countries.
- On March 18, the IOC held a conference call with 200 athlete representatives that caused further ire, with Spanish Olympic Committee president Alejandro Blanco saying there would be unfair competition given the training gym shut downs in certain countries, and U.S. table tennis player Han Xiao saying, “Regardless of their intentions, their first priority is not the public health aspect of it,” according to the New York Times.
- Adding fuel to the fire this month: Kozo Tashima, the vice chairman of Japan’s Olympic Committee and the head of the Japan Football Association, tested positive for the coronavirus following trips to Europe and the U.S., Greece’s Olympic committee barred fans from attending the traditional torch lighting ceremony and Canada pulled out of the Games this past weekend.
Crucial Quote: In late February, a senior official told Reuters that Japan essentially had no backup plan, saying “We are not even thinking of when or in what contingency we might decide things. There is no thought of change at all in my mind.”
Big Number: $12.6 billion to $25.2 billion. That’s the estimated investment the city of Tokyo has made in the event and will have to swallow during a delay before recouping any revenue from the Summer Olympics, according to CBS. Sponsors additionally will take a financial blow, though, one of its biggest broadcasters, Discovery Inc., told investors in February that it was insured against a cancellation and that it wouldn’t hit the company particularly hard. NBCUniversal as well assured investors it had insurance, but it also would lose profit from the already $1.25 billion it’s sold in advertising, signing a $7.7 billion U.S. broadcasting deal for the Games until 2032, according to the New York Times. The Olympics is the largest spectator event affected by the global coronavirus pandemic, with the 2016 Games in Brazil selling 6.2 million tickets.
Key Background: According to Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 392,000 total confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with 17,000 deaths worldwide. In Japan in particular, there are 1,140 cases with 42 confirmed deaths.
Tangent: The Olympic Games are among the athletic world’s most storied events. First held in 776 BCE, the Games were revived in the modern era in 1896, when the Games were held in Athens, Greece. The 1916 Games were cancelled because of World War I, as were the 1940 and 1944 Games due to World War II.
An Evening When The Stars Descended With Racquets: Federer And Nadal Faced-Off On African Soil For The Mother Of All Tennis Matches
The world’s biggest names in men’s tennis today, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, faced-off on African soil for the first time at a celebrity charity match also attended by Bill Gates. FORBES AFRICA was witness.
This is the story of how on a balmy summer day in February, a billionaire, a late-night talk show host and two sporting legends came together for the mother of all tennis matches in The Mother City.
In the coastal city of Cape Town in South Africa, a sea of admirers at Cape Town Stadium on February 7 waited with bated breath for the men with racquets they had booked tickets months in advance to see. And this for an exhibition match titled, ‘The Match In Africa’, which drew a record crowd of 51,945, all for a good cause.
Security was tight. And the crowds were building up. And in they walked, for the practice session first. Roger Federer appeared from the players’ tunnel, wearing his Uniqlo black shirt and shorts, a white headband and white Nike shoes bearing the ‘RF’ logo.
Next to the 20-time Grand Slam men’s singles champion was his mother, Lynette Federer, in a distinct green top and black pants.
Shortly, Rafael Nadal, the ‘Spanish Bull’, the world number two in men’s singles tennis, made his grand entry on to the hard court sporting pink and white Nike shoes with the word ‘Rafa’ written on them, a pink Nike shirt, and a white Nike baseball cap with his trademark ‘bull’ logo.
And the two players gave the crowd a taste of what they would see later on in the day: world-class tennis.
Earlier, Lynette, who hails from Kempton Park, a small town in the East Rand of Gauteng in South Africa, had spoken to FORBES AFRICA about the legacy she thinks Federer and Nadal are leaving for the next generation, in particular those in South Africa.
“I really do hope that it leaves a certain message because South Africans are known to be passionate sportsmen. I do hope that tennis can pick up once again as it has been – South Africa was once upon a time a big tennis nation – and that it maybe does inspire more children to play the sport and that would be marvelous because that’s one part of the message we would like to leave. But the main message is that we’re also here to help the children of southern Africa.”
Lynette is on the board of the Roger Federer Foundation that has managed to uplift the lives of over a million children in southern Africa.
In June 2019, tennis fans in South Africa couldn’t contain their excitement when Federer had disclosed in Vogue’s highly-popular video feature, 73 Questions, that his greatest rival, the 19-time Grand Slam champion Nadal, was going to help him again for the Roger Federer Foundation.
“We’re going to try to break the record for most attendance, in Cape Town, South Africa, for my foundation… I’m so looking forward to it, so thank you Rafa,” Federer had said.
This was the sixth edition of the match, but the first to be played on African soil.
The previous day, Federer had taken to Instagram, posting a video saying “hello everybody, I’m in Cape Town, I just got to the tennis court or football stadium, have a look, it’s amazing,” as he panned the camera for a full view of the stadium. “And we have got the orange color for Rafa so he feels like he’s on clay but it’s hard court.”
Federer was referring to Nadal being dubbed the ‘king of clay’ for winning 12 of his 19 Grand Slam titles on the orange clay courts of Roland Garros (French Open) in Paris.
The media stood on the courtside as the champions displayed some of their famous moves. Federer’s dad, Robert, was also present.
The mood in the stadium was beginning to get ecstatic.
The ‘Swiss Maestro’ and ‘Spanish Bull’ are undoubtedly the biggest rivals the sport has ever seen.
Yet, despite their fierce on-court rivalry, the two have managed to form a close friendship off-court.
More importantly, they have managed to inspire fans from all walks of life in different parts of the world.
And South Africa was no exception.
In the audience, a middle-aged woman named Sylna, dressed like Federer, gushed: “The moment is just too big because you don’t know what to expect and you have all these images that [Federer and Nadal] are going to shake your hands and you’re going to pass out.”
Theresa, another woman dressed as Nadal, sporting the player’s signature pink headband, enthused: “It’s actually long overdue that we’ve had some nice international tennis players in South Africa and it’s for a good cause as well.”
Jim, a 63-year-old tennis fanatic from Stellenbosch, originally from Zimbabwe, said he paid a fortune to witness this moment. “The fact that [Federer and Nadal] have been able to maintain their stature, physicality and competitiveness is absolutely amazing. You can have a good day but they have had a good 20 years of playing tennis. It’s just their spirit… Tonight is a good night to forget about all the bad things and concentrate on the good things because there’s a lot of good things in South Africa.”
One of the most rapturous moments on that packed night was when the ‘Mexican Wave’ was achieved in a metachronal rhythm by fans, and captured by thousands on their phones.
And then the world’s second richest man staged an entry.
Bill Gates appeared from the players’ tunnel with his doubles partner Federer, in matching outfits. Federer now swapped his Uniqlo black shirt and shorts for a white shirt and green shorts. He also decided to exchange the white headband for a green one. Gates opted not to wear the headband but had his glasses on.
Shortly afterwards, Nadal and South Africa’s very own Trevor Noah too appeared from the players’ tunnel in matching outfits to screaming fans and a thunderous applause. They wore pink Nike jackets featuring Nadal’s bull logo, pink shirts, pink and white shoes, and white shorts. Noah walked on to the court with the confidence of a multiple Grand Slam winner.
“I feel incredibly excited. So happy! I spent a lot of my childhood here. It’s been 20 years since my last time to Cape Town. It was worth the wait. I didn’t expect this kind of a welcome,” said Federer to SuperSport even as fans held up signs that said ‘welcome home Roger’.
He said some of the best things he experienced coming back to South Africa were the food and lifestyle. “It’s a beautiful country. It’s so scenic. The safaris, and you name it. The people at the end of the day have the warmest hearts. It’s a wonderful place.”
On playing Noah for the first time, he said: “I have never seen him play tennis in my life so that’s a good advantage for him but I’m not sure how good he is. But he’s got the best partner he could find in Rafa so it’s going to be very special. Trevor is a great guy, great person, so funny as well, and I think that could throw us off a little bit. And Rafa, obviously the legend he is, we know how great he is.”
“Play aggressive and very well, that’s the most clear way to success.– Rafael Nadal
The Swiss maestro then went on to tell the crowd: “I hope you all have a blast. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you!”
Gates had previously played in a doubles team for two ‘The Match For Africa’ tournaments prior to ‘The Match In Africa’ finale. Together with Federer, they called themselves ‘Gateserer’, and were unbeaten.
On teaming up with Federer for the third time, Gates said: “We’ve had a lot of fun. The events have been a blast to do. And they’ve raised great resources for his foundation so it’s a thrill to be here; the biggest crowd ever!”
And Nadal, on being back on South African soil, said: “It’s amazing. I’ve never played and felt like this… Just thank you everybody for supporting this.”
The crowds cheered louder.
“It’s very very special. We’re here supporting Roger’s foundation event. It makes me super happy.”
Noah nodded profusely.
“We’re going to create good team work for sure. No doubt,” said Nadal. “I said to Trevor the strategy is clear. Play aggressive and very well, that’s the most clear way to have success.”
Ten years ago, who would have thought that a young man from Soweto, a township in South Africa, would be playing tennis with two of the world’s greatest male tennis players, and also tech-billionaire and Microsoft founder Gates?
“We’ve got a strong strategy. I think Roger’s at a disadvantage. We’re both half Swiss, half South African, so I’m in his head. I know what he’s going to do. I won’t use it too much against him. I’ve got one of the greatest players that the world has ever seen next to me so we’re going to make it a good match. It’s going to be a really good match,” said Noah.
He said playing alongside Nadal was a great combination because “the World Cup 2010 was in South Africa. Spain won that World Cup. So we’ve got a special connection right here. We’re bringing that magic back today.”
Noah brought his trademark humor to the court but that wasn’t enough to pull an upset despite having Nadal on his team. Team ‘Gateserer’ beat Team ‘N-Squared’ 6-3 to hold onto their unbeaten streak. Federer said on Noah’s tennis game: “I couldn’t even see the feet, they were so fast.”
Before the players headed back into the locker rooms, Gates spoke about the work the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is doing in Africa. “A lot of the work we do in South Africa is to help fight HIV and tuberculosis. And so, going and meeting the doctors, seeing the patients and understanding the drugs; how we can make them better. It’s inspiring to see the people who do the work in the field. Things have improved in those areas but there’s a lot more to do.”
Preluding the main match of the night, the Ndlovu Youth Choir, a South African singing group that recently appeared on America’s Got Talent, performed Shakira’s foot-tapping Waka Waka song.
The atmosphere was reminiscent of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The players once again appeared from the players’ tunnel, returning to court and a frenzied crowd.
Spotted in the front-row were South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe and his fashion entrepreneur wife Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, as also the country’s rugby legend Brian Habana.
Federer spoke about Nadal trailing behind him for the record of the most Grand Slam wins.
“The good thing about tonight is that he cannot catch me. Tonight, I’m relaxed.” Federer further said he wouldn’t mind if Nadal caught up with him, however, he would like to win one more Wimbledon title.
Siya Kolisi, the first black captain of the South African rugby team, which won the Rugby World Cup late last year, also made a special appearance. He came on court bearing a gift for the rugby team’s special fan, Federer. From one champion to another, Kolisi handed over a Number 8 green Springboks jersey with Federer’s surname written on it to symbolize his South African roots.
Federer wore it and the two champions hugged.
“Thank you to all of you beautiful people of South Africa. We appreciate everything you do. Roger has been telling me how amazing it’s been since he’s come back here. It just shows how many great things we can achieve as a country; for these two gentlemen to come out here and want to play in South Africa is really an awesome thing. And I hope it inspires a lot of people to come here and do this because we’ve got beautiful facilities like these and we can fill up the stadium which is amazing,” said Kolisi to SuperSport.
In the end, tennis fans were treated to a thrilling match that saw Federer hitting his famous backhand, a shot that has been instrumental in his career. He won the first set by 6-4. Nadal didn’t hold back either. He unleashed his lethal curling forehand shot on Federer as if it was one of the many ‘Fedal’ Grand Slam final classics that tennis fans have witnessed over the years. Nadal managed to scoop the second set 6-3. In the final set, he made some errors that ushered Federer’s victory, as he won the match by 6-4 3-6 6-3. The two hugged it out by the net.
‘The Match In Africa’ raised $3.5 million, the highest amount the Roger Federer Foundation has ever netted from a single exhibition match. The proceeds will help support children’s education in Africa as the exhibition is all about empowering children, in particular, in the area of early childhood education. The event also set a world record for the most attendees at a single tennis match.
So the numbers beg the question: is South Africa ready for a tennis Grand Slam, or at the very least, ready to be added on to the calendars of the ATP and WTA tours?
At least on this night, it was clear South Africans love sport. Maybe the game has only just begun.
What Federer Thought Nadal Must Do In South Africa
“I think Rafa has to go to Table Mountain, and then also of course to the Cape of Good Hope, maybe some of the vineyards, and Bo-Kaap – I went there this morning… I think [this trip] is going to make him want to come back to have a proper time with his wife and maybe his kids, in the future, and really travel South Africa and Africa extensively. He came here for the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals when Spain played at Soccer City in Johannesburg so he’s got a little taste here already and I think this one is definitely going to motivate him for many more returns,” said Federer to FORBES AFRICA.
LeBron James Adds Multiyear AT&T Deal To His Endorsement Stable
LeBron James’ move to the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency in July 2018 brought star power back to the NBA’s glamour franchise. AT&T hopes James can bring that same star power, and his millions of fans, to its latest offering.
Today, the world’s largest telecom company fully launches its new streaming service, AT&T TV (not to be confused with AT&T TV Now), with a national campaign featuring James and others celebrities like Missy Elliott, Tracy Morgan and Cookie Monster in a series of ads based on “TV Famous Mouths.”
James has dominated the NBA action on the court this season. He leads the league in assists and has the Lakers five and a half games ahead of the rest of the Western Conference in his 17th year in the NBA. Yet King James might be enjoying an even better year off the court, with a handful of new lucrative endorsement partners and the continued growth of his I Promise community.
The four-time NBA MVP’s sponsorship prowess and commitment to Akron schoolchildren converge with the multiyear AT&T agreement. As part of the partnership, AT&T’s technology and other resources will be allocated to the I Promise Village, which serves as transitional housing for families with students at the nearby I Promise School opened by James, his namesake foundation and the Akron school district in 2018.
“To have one of the biggest communications companies in the world believe in my kids and the work we’re doing to uplift families is incredible,” James said in a release announcing the agreement.
James already has a deep relationship with AT&T through the company’s Warner Bros. Entertainment and HBO divisions. His production company, SpringHill Entertainment, partnered with Warner Bros. to develop the Space Jam 2 film, which stars James and is set for a 2021 summer release. The Shop and Student Athlete are both SpringHill shows that appear on HBO. And Warner Bros. and Turner Sports invested $15.8 million in late 2015 in Uninterrupted, the digital multimedia company founded by James and his business partner Maverick Carter.
AT&T joins James’ burgeoning endorsement portfolio, which also added Rimowa luggage, Walmart and the mental fitness app Calm over the past year. General Motors revealed James as its new pitchman last month during a Super Bowl ad for the upcoming GMC Hummer EV. The above brands join James’ longtime sponsors Nike, Coca-Cola, Beats and Blaze Pizza. Forbes estimates James will earn more than $60 million off the court this year, on top of his $37.4 million salary with the Lakers. Nike represents more than half of his endorsement earnings.
James has incorporated many of his recent sponsors into his I Promise initiative, including AT&T. Walmart stocks the school’s pantry, which is accessible 24 hours a day for the school’s families, with fresh and frozen food, toiletries and other basic necessities. The content on the Calm app is available to all I Promise students and staff.
AT&T TV has been available in 13 cities to this point. It enters a crowded streaming market battling for cord-cutters, many of them subscribers of DirecTV, which AT&T acquired in 2015 for $48.5 billion. AT&T TV features an Android-based set-top box that acts like a Roku or Apple TV and offers live TV, DVR storage and on-demand titles that are also available on mobile devices.
AT&T is banking on James to attract subscribers. His 150 million social media fans across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are by far the most of any American athlete. The only athletes with more fans are global soccer stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
– Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes Staff, Sports Business
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