At the end of August 2019, African sports fans will benefit from access to sports coverage from ESPN as part of a rebrand of Fox Sports Africa to ESPN. The FOX Sports and FOX Sports 2 channels that have been a mainstay on the TV guides of African sports fans across the continent will be rebranded to ESPN and ESPN2 from 30 August 2019.

The new ESPN-branded channels will continue to provide coverage of all the leading major leagues in North America, which have long captured the imagination of African viewers, with plans afoot to bring additional live sporting events in the future.

The ESPN sports broadcaster is scheduled to return to Africa this month.

Major League Baseball (MLB) and Major League Soccer (MLS) are two of the most popular North American sporting exports to the African continent, while ESPN’s coverage of the Professional Fighters League and a host of European soccer leagues including the English Championship, Dutch Eredivisie and Turkish Super Lig will also be made available.

ESPN is also due to broadcast full coverage of the upcoming WAFU Cup of Nations 2019 this autumn, which is to be hosted in Senegal.

The Senegalese fans are sure to be in fine voice this autumn.

The end of Fox Sports Africa is a logical step

For some time, Fox Sports Africa has broadcast many of the leading major league sports from North America, as well as leading soccer leagues in Europe. The rebrand is partly due to Fox’s plans to focus on the launch of its own sports betting platform, Fox Bet, in partnership with BetStars.

It’s also due to The Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox, which makes the rebranding of Fox Sports Africa to ESPN a logical step.

Fox Sports and Fox Sports 2 both arrived in Africa back in 2014 when Chinese satellite television network StarTimes agreed to bring the channels to South Africa under the guise of StarSat. Furthermore, Cell C agreed to broadcast Fox Sports and Fox Sports 2 as part of its subscription-based video-on-demand (SVOD) platform at the end of 2017.

Fingers crossed at ESPN HQ for a warm reception back in Africa

Interestingly, Disney and ESPN took the decision to move themselves out of the African market in the summer of 2013. Both the ESPN and ESPN Classic channels were culled almost overnight by owners The Walt Disney Company, leaving tens of thousands of MultiChoice DStv subscription customers bitterly disappointed. Disney also warned that ESPN’s global presence as a leading sports broadcaster could be over a year earlier, citing the escalating costs of buying live broadcasting rights that Disney was either unwilling to pay, or could not afford. Bob Iger, CEO and chairman of Walt Disney, warned the company’s investors that the opportunities for the ESPN brand were “limited internationally”.

It’s therefore refreshing to see ESPN return once again six years later, as it seeks to re-establish a presence in a booming market for satellite subscriptions, online and mobile streaming and live sport in general. Disney will need to hope it hasn’t burnt its bridges with the African viewers, giving sports fans across the continent unfettered access to some of the biggest live events in 2019 to compensate for all those years lost.

Frank Rutten, of ESPN Europe & Africa, said that the ESPN brand has long been “synonymous with sports”, rapidly becoming “one of the most valuable brands” on the planet, with a reach expanding into Africa and beyond. During the first weekend of the ESPN rebrand, African sports fans will be able to soak up some huge live sporting events. Most notably, the Yankees Vs Athletics MLB game, the “Old Firm” derby between Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers and an MLS fixture which sees the LA Galaxy match up against the Seattle Sounders.

The 2019 WAFU Cup of Nations will be one of the biggest showpiece events that ESPN will provide exclusive coverage for from Senegal within a month of its relaunch. The West African Football Union contains 16 of the most successful African soccer nations that do battle every two years. The initial knock-out stage begins in earnest on 28th September, when host nation Senegal lock horns with Guinea-Bissau. The final of the 2019 WAFU Cup of Nations is scheduled for 12thOctober, culminating in a fortnight of intense, pulsating competition.

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