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AFCON’s marketability threatened by hosting turmoil

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AFCON

When the Confederation of African Football (CAF) announced an increase in teams from 16 to 24 for its flagship Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament in 2017, the idea was to grow its revenues.

The logic was that more matches will mean more television time for sponsors. With more TV time, new sponsors would come on board.

From 32 matches, the tournament will now offer 52 games for sponsors to reach viewers across the continent.

However, with an increase in the number of participating teams came the requirement for at least two new stadia for host countries to worry about. When Cameroon were handed the hosting rights in 2014, they were required to host 16 teams.

Due to delays in delivering the venues with six months left as well as political crisis leading to a civil war between the French and English-speaking parts of the country, Cameroon was stripped of the hosting rights on November 30 after a CAF Executive Committee meeting in Accra, Ghana.

With hindsight, members of the CAF Executive Committee must now be regretting the decision to tamper with the tournament’s size.

For in the past, it was easy for even small countries like Gabon and Equatorial Guinea to step in to host the 16-team AFCON at short notice.

Now, even the richer countries like South Africa and Morocco are dragging their feet. Nigeria, with general elections in February 2019, did not bother to show any interest.

In an interview with Yaounde-based Afrique Media earlier this month, CAF President Ahmad Ahmad further threw spanner in the works when he declared that Cameroon will now take the place of Ivory Coast as hosts of the 2021 AFCON seeing that the Ivoirians do not look ready to host.

He suggested that Ivory Coast will be ready for the 2023 tournament that was previously granted to Guinea.

This has now set up a situation where potential sponsors are wary of putting their funds into the tournament.

A sports marketer told me this week about how one key brand that was looking to bring in sponsorship funds has put a stop to further discussions with CAF and its marketing consultant Lagardere due to the hosting imbroglio. “From hot interest, it’s gone to frozen chill,” the executive said about the brand.

CAF already has French oil major TOTAL as title sponsors until at least 2023. It also recently got the support of payment services platform, VISA until 2021.

The VISA deal, estimated at about $19million over two AFCON tournaments, is the best to have happened to CAF under the leadership of Ahmad.

VISA will become the payment gateway for the purchase of AFCON match tickets as well as in-stadium purchases during the tournament.

This deal was announced 10 days before the stripping of the hosting rights from Cameroon. Who knows what would have happened had the hosting imbroglio arisen earlier?

CAF has said that the new hosts for the 2019 AFCON will be announced in early January. This leaves that country with less than six months to organise the tournament scheduled for June 15 to July 13.

South Africa could call upon existing infrastructure from the 2010 FIFA World Cup to host the 2019 AFCON if it gets government backing to step in. They hosted the 1996 and 2013 tournaments after Kenya and Libya respectively withdrew due to issues with delays in facilities as well as insecurity after the Arab Spring.

Those tournaments were watersheds in AFCON history. 1996 was the first 16-team competition while 2013 was the first competition held in an odd-numbered year.

South Africa seem to be the continent’s fall back guys but the potential cost of $10million (according to SAFA acting CEO Russel Paul) would make the country give it a hard think.

Morocco, another front-runner, recently failed to win the rights to the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

After stepping in to host the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN) that was taken away from Kenya, Morocco was always going to be in the running for the bigger AFCON.

However, there is that faint hint that Morocco had been scheming for the AFCON against Cameroon as an act of vengeance against former CAF president Issa Hayatou who withdrew their rights to host the 2015 AFCON at the height of the Ebola Virus scare of 2014. But sports minister Rachid Talbi Alami stated on Wednesday that they would not be bidding to host the tournament.

What this has shown is that it will increasingly become tougher to find hosts for the 24-team AFCON.

In a continent where many countries are struggling economically, hosting major sporting tournaments is ranking lower on the scale of preference.

This hosting turmoil did not start recently and it will not end soon. It will only discourage potential sponsors despite the good intentions.


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