When African football experts gather in Morroco on July 19th and 20th 2017, for an extraordinary football symposium organized by the Confederation of African Football, CAF, the biggest elephant in the room would be the decision to leave the African Cup of Nations’ schedule as it is (January – February) or for it to be moved to June-July. National teams and European clubs have fought again and again at each edition for the release of players.
European coaches have a problem releasing their African stars during a demanding moment which could make or mar their season. This is coupled with the fact that many Africans plying their trade in Europe often return after the competition with an injury or very tired. CAF during the Issa Hayatou days claimed that in June and July each year, weather conditions are unfavourable because the west is too wet, the North is too hot, and the South is too cold. Thus the competition has remained as scheduled for many editions.
While CAF has a point, we all know that according to the old English adage: he who pays the piper, dictates the tune. Even though the African cup of Nations has remained in January, some African stars in Europe have remained loyal to their clubs and snubbed the national team call. So even players seem to be unimpressed by the timing.
It just makes sense for the competition to be moved. As for weather conditions, man can do little to change it however with technology and infrastructure, we can make a fair attempt to have our way against nature. For example, the English Premier league refuses to go on break in December, during a very crucial winter period when many European leagues decide otherwise. In turn many pitches have under-soil heating to keep players warm. There are sprinklers to water the ground before and after each game and in-between halves. In some instances however, when the conditions are unfavourable, games are postponed, and the world does not end. In Tennis, when the organizers of Wimbledon realized that the rain could be a menace sometimes in big matches, the added a retractable roof to the center court in 2009. If weather is a problem, we have to build better stadiums with covered roofs in the West and under-soil heating in the south. If we don’t have the money, well we just play football. Sporting competitions with a twist added by nature has always been a spectacle. However if we really set our minds to build better infrastructures, we could.
If the competition is moved, then the African Cup of Nations will need to have better organization and marketing to hold an interest of the public in the summer. It is true that many league competitions across the world will have been concluded but we know that there are still many football competitions which could reduce the significance of the premier CAF competition. For example the Euros which happens every four years, the many Pre-season tournaments, and the FIFA Confederations Cup. Although schedules in terms of date would avoid a clash however it only makes sense that marketing and organization be improved for a total rebranding which could increase revenue drastically. This is where we could learn a lot from COPA America. The COPA America is of huge importance to the world because of the big footballing names i.e. Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Columbia, Paraguay, Uruguay and a host of other teams however asides television rights, the revenue base comes from the fans within that continent who patronize the competition in ticket purchases, and merchandise. The math is simple, huge populations in member countries hold a potential market if prices are affordable. This is the same model for Europe, however the argument that the economy in Europe is by miles better than Africa, makes the COPA America a more appropriate example. COPA America in the last edition was witnessed by fans in over 160 countries and the nerve-racking final drew almost 100 million views yet attendance to games was great as well, cumulatively 1.5 million fans saw the game live. Which means an average of 46,875 fans saw each game. Multiply that by ticket prices and merchandise, that’s good money for a competition which Forbes says was hurriedly put together in six months. January or February, June or July, the African Cup of Nations has a tradition of empty seats across several games and this has to change. For starters, the ticketing channels has to be better. And the transportation networks across cities when you have to travel between countries sometimes can be really funny. In many instances connecting flights to shorten travel time can be a pain and come at premium price in an era when the rest of the world talks about low-cost air travel options.
A re-brand is necessary, and the standards of organization has to be more rigorously supervised. Television isn’t the problem anymore, neither is the standard of the pitch, these problems appear to have thankfully been overcome. However the natty-gritty of organization and getting fans into these competitions with a jamboree and fanfare beyond the host country places a question mark on how much of tourism and hospitality, organizers of CAF competitions can harness. In the case of FIFA, marketing the world cup is big business and the revenue is mouth-watering. CAF may never be able to match the same figures revenue-wise, however with great organization and marketing, a fair attempt can be made despite Africa’s economic woes.