How Nike rejection birthed sportswear industry in Nigeria
For many years, Nigerian sports had to depend on foreign brands for all kinds of sporting and leisure wears. In doing this, Nigeria was also ceding to these countries the opportunities that came with the business of sports. None of these changed, until Africa for Africa (AFA) Sports started out in Nigeria years ago.
Ugo Udezue had come to Nigeria to establish the Continental Basketball League, (CBL) after spending 17 years with BDA Sports management in California. At this time, he saw sports as being “more about creating opportunities than just winning trophies”.
What he saw was the prospects of creating a whole economy built around the game – alternate relaxation options for workers who had spent long hours at work, and better opportunities for people to trade their wares and entertain guests during the games.
A major kitting challenge came up for the CBL, as most of the foreign brands did not seem to cater for the African climate. The kits and balls being used had been designed by foreign brands using their weather condition and environment as the guiding factor. Because of this, they could not cater to the needs of the Nigerian basketball players.
“The balls were not designed to absorb sweat and so the players kept dropping the balls. Even the jerseys and shoes had clearly not been designed for the African weather since we did not play the game in air-conditioned courts,” he explained.
When Udezue reached out to Nike to seek Apparel sponsorship for the CBL, he received the shocking news that “Africa was not in their plans at the time”.
This rejection, though a short term challenge, became the inspiration behind founding AFA Sports, done by Africans to cater to the sporting needs of Africans.
As you may well know, there were foreign companies sponsoring Nigerian teams at the time, making jerseys and other apparel. But because they were not producing these things locally, they were depriving the country of the opportunities and benefits which should have come with such ventures.
Gradually, Udezue and his team moved from the initial years of chaos and unprofitability, to growing AFA Sports into the biggest performing sports brand in Africa. The company’s products are now shipped to different countries.
In a couple of years, the dream started to materialise when AFA sports became the official apparel sponsor of the Nigerian National Basketball team D’Tigers during the Afro Basket 2017 competition. It was a major game-changer for sporting in Africa.’
An industry waiting to explode
Manufacturing in Nigeria is often thought of along the lines or agricultural and industrial products, without much attention on the sporting and leisure industry. From jerseys to tracksuits, leisure wears, boots, balls, caps and others, there is a whole economy waiting to be explored.
“I saw sports as a way to create wealth. I realised that it was an opportunity to create jobs for Nigerians while meeting the need for football clothing, and for as long we keep sourcing these materials from the foreign brands, we will miss out on ways we could have used it to empower our economy,” Udezue said.
With these items produced locally at the factories and even exported to other countries, jobs are created for Nigerians. AFA sports, for instance, has three factories in Lagos state where it employs people to carry out its productions of sports and leisure wears.
Beyond saving Nigeria the cost implications of importing such products, the products are now being exported to other African countries bringing in some foreign exchange for Nigeria.
As Nigeria moves towards self-sufficiency, there is the need to pay attention to the sports economy and its attendant benefits. Much more than sponsorships, hosting games in local economy can turn the fortunes of small business owners in the locality, given them a wider market and increased income.