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“The next Africa Cup of Nations will be digitally incredible”

We interviewed Sherif Hassan, the Head of Digital and Marketing Products at the Confederation of African Football (CAF), to discuss their digital strategy, the distinct characteristics of African football, and the ways in which CAF serves as more than just a governing body in Africa.

By Quang T. Pham

Your title is Head of digital and marketing products, what does that role entail? 

As the Head of Digital Marketing Products, I am responsible for managing the digital aspects of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), which is the official governing body of football in Africa. My key role is to manage all digital operations of our competitions and utilize digital tools to engage with fans, build relationships, and understand their preferences and opinions.

What are the most important digital products that CAF is working on right now?

Right now, our department focuses on key social media channels and building more digital products, such as a website, mobile app, gamification system, and online ticketing platform. We are also working on an online platform for club licensing, which involves connecting with clubs and managing the registration of players.

Our department operates at the intersection of commercial and communication, with the goal of supporting both areas. Our communication strategy focuses on fan engagement, while our commercial strategy involves creating products and revenue-generating opportunities through sponsorships.

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What are the unique attributes of football in Africa?

The way fans in Africa embrace football is different from other parts of the world. There is a mix of passion and fanaticism for the game, similar to places like Brazil and Argentina, but there is also a unique cultural aspect to it. In Africa, the culture is not solely based on national teams or nationalities, but rather on the different regions and zones, each with its own culture, languages, and traditions. In contrast to Europe, where there is intense competition and rivalry between nations, we see strong regional allegiance in Africa. For instance, when a national team like Morocco reached the semi-final in the World Cup, it is common to see all Africans coming together in support and celebration.

Still, I’d say the most distinctive cultural trait is probably music, which can be seen everywhere in the form of African dancing and celebrations. In our recent research, we found that people in Africa consume football and music at a rate of 75% of their daily life. Hence, we build our digital strategy to provide not just top sporting quality, but also rich cultural experiences, including the celebration and spirit of music. 

Africa is such a huge and culturally diverse continent, how do you gather feedback and insights from different regions?

Our approach is to divide the continent into separate zones and communicate in four languages. We have researchers who gather feedback and insights from across the continent. In terms of resources, we also handle this by separating it into zones, but also collectively, since it is essential to view the continent as a whole. This allows us to understand and cater to the unique perspectives and preferences of each region while still coming together as a united continent to support and celebrate the success of African teams.

You mentioned CAF’s Club Licensing Online Platform, how does this platform benefit African football clubs and leagues?

CAF has recently launched a new department called Club Licensing and a new online licensing platform. We’re at the first phase, where we want to ensure all clubs and leagues comply with regulations and rules to develop and enhance African football. The platform will also focus on improving the registration process for players, particularly young players. Due to the lack of proper registration systems in many African countries, it has been difficult to track and develop young players for teams such as under-17 and under-20. The platform will also help build and keep track of a database of all African players and clubs.

In the second phase, the platform will be open and published to the fans (currently, it is only available for clubs and administrations). It is expected to take two or three years to complete, and once it is done, fans will be able to track player information such as age, team, and club registration. This will facilitate player tracking even more, as many African players want to go abroad to Europe when they are young and don’t have proper documentation in Africa.

Do you adopt new technologies and innovation in the digital/marketing space, such as Metaverse, NFT, or something similar?

We are currently developing our digital strategy for the next five years. Recently, I had a meeting in London with a representative from Meta and we discussed the potential of Metaverse technology to enhance our sports community. We are currently researching the types of content, production, and tools that we need to test and implement.

The plan is to launch some official Metaverse projects by 2024 – 2025, and in time for the World Cup 2026 in the US. My ultimate goal is to introduce Africa to this new technology and provide a unique experience for the fans.

Can you explain the reasoning behind CAF’s partnership with TikTok?

We believed that TikTok and CAF could have a massive collaboration in terms of sports, music, and entertainment. As mentioned, our research showed that 65-75% of African consumption on digital platforms is for sports and music. By leveraging this, we can reach our audience through the platform they are already using and engage with them on a deeper level to build loyalty towards African football, rather than just European football. We want to create a stronger connection with our audience and make them love local leagues, clubs, and competitions.  The partnership was formed two years ago and turned out to be a great success. During the last African Cup of Nations, we had a record of over 1 billion views on TikTok for the tournament’s hashtag.

Why does CAF position itself not only as a governing body but also as a football entertainment producer in Africa?

Our responsibility is to share knowledge with the regional federations and clubs. We have the capacity and resources to carry out holistic research on African fan consumption and digital lifestyle, so we must share this information and data with the leagues or clubs. For example, a club in North Africa may conduct research, but they won’t consider the perspectives of those from South Africa. That’s where we came in. 

Different from European football where big clubs such as Man United who has a bigger brand image than the English FA, African leagues and clubs rely on our support and guidance from the top management.

It is CAF’s role to share best practices, knowledge, and know-how to achieve our goals for the entire continent. We strive to see the bigger picture for the benefit of the entire continent in every aspect, and so is the entertainment side of football.

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What are the plans for your role in 2023 and your long-term strategy?

In 2023, we will launch various digital products to support the growth and development of African football. Another focus is the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast in January 2024. We aim to make it the most powerful and successful African tournament to date. The next Africa Cup of Nations will be digitally incredible.

In the long run, we will also focus on utilizing digital platforms to reach a wider audience, such as our partnerships with TikTok and hopefully with Spotify. Additionally, we plan to launch a gamification platform that includes a prediction fantasy game, and other interactive elements. We also have partnerships with Facebook and Instagram and plan to utilize cutting-edge production techniques such as 360-degree cameras to enhance the fan experience. Overall, our goal is to drive the digital transformation of African football.

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