Last year, Shola Akinlade, co-founder and CEO of Paystack launched Sporting Lagos, a modern football club to incubate the next generation of Nigeria's sporting talent. The club played its first match at Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos, Africa's startup hub on February 13, 2022.
The match ended in a draw after Sporting Lagos equalised following an own goal from Go Round FC.
"Football has always been a space that makes me proud to be part of this country and continent. That’s likely because football is more than entertainment; it’s identity, it’s opportunity. Digging deeper into the sport has been a revelation. There’s an entire ecosystem of time, activity, and talent that goes into those electrifying 90 minutes," Shola said during the launch of the club in 2022.
Sporting Lagos currently plays the Nigeria National League (NNL), the second tier of club football in Nigeria with an ambition to break into the Nigeria Professional Football League. The club currently ranks second in the ongoing NNL season.
At the time of the launch, Shola said although he is starting with a club he has a big ambition to build "something that lasts generations. And creates an opportunity for millions".
In line with this vision, the CEO of the first YC-backed Nigerian company has acquired a 55% stake in Aarhus Fremad, the club is currently at the top of the Danish 2nd Division — the third tier of the Danish football league system. In the last two years, Aarhus Fremad lost ~$191.6 million and has been running on a deficit. "It is difficult to make money in the 2nd division. It's actually pretty much impossible. And Aarhus Fremad has felt that," according to local media reports.
"By strengthening the relationship between Sporting Lagos and Aarhus Fremad, we aim to create an environment that fosters education, growth, and opportunity for our players and the community at large," Shola said in a statement seen by Benjamindada.com.
This acquisition is aimed at creating more European exposure for Sporting Lagos players. Aside from a membership programme and an academy, the company intends to make revenue in future through player sales to Europe.
Shola intends to achieve this with the entrepreneurial drive that he used to build Paystack, which was acquired by Stripe in October 2020 for over $200 million.
In his book, the history of soccer in Nigeria, Wiebe Boer, the President of Calvin University said "Nigerian current leagues are dominated by state-owned clubs, so players are essentially civil servants." This means that the growth of clubs like Plateau United of Plateau state and Lobi Stars of Benue state is dependent on the interest of the state governor. Hence, most of the players from these clubs don't attract investors from vibrant football ecosystems like Europe.
"In practical terms, the agreement means that we can have a much larger perspective in Fremad, as well as an international dimension to work with. All in all, I have the feeling right now that this is a really good match, and I look forward to continuing the development in our club as well as the collaboration with Shola and his team," Lars Kruse, CEO of Aarhus Fremad, says.
At it launch, Shola announced that he will be joined by Godwin Enakhena, former managing director of MFM FC as chairman of Sporting Lagos. Uzo Okonkwo is the club’s managing director with Yemisi Cole as the secretary. Meanwhile, Colin Udoh, a sports journalist, and Fola Olatuniji-David are also members of the club's governing body. Fola previously served as head of Google’s accelerator program in Africa.
"When you are building a club you make sure it is not dependent on one person, and what Shola has done is put a group of professionals together," Udoh said.
Recently, a Nigerian e-commerce startup, Klasha became the official headline sponsor of the club for the 2023 NNL. "Sporting Lagos’ strong appeal in the Nigerian National League combined with its culture and focus on elite sport and talent reflects our values as an organisation. As a business, we’re committed to aligning ourselves with organisations that have a culture of excellence so we’re a proud partner to the team and are excited to connect our customers and their fans during the next season," Jess Anuna, Founder and CEO of Klasha, said.
Sporting Lagos has had the support of other African tech companies such as Abeg, PiggyVest, Renmoney and Helium Health.