Last week, CAF issued invitations to marketing agencies that would, upon agreement, represent its commercial interests for the cycle 2020/2021.
This came following the decision by CAF in 2019 to terminate the 12-year, $1Billion guaranteed contract with French sports marketing agency, Lagardère Sports and Entertainment (LSE), a decision that has caused LSE to lodge formal complaints with The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).
While the ICC emergency arbitrator refused to grant LSE the preliminary request to keep the contract in force until the matter was dealt on merit and in finality, LSE have gone ahead to make their substantive case against CAF, seeking $90 million in compensation.
To be fair, LSE had attempted to seek resolution of the issues that CAF felt were problematic about the contract, in fact hosting one (1) high-powered meeting with CAF and which came up with a plan of action.
CAF flagged some of the issues it wanted to discuss and finalize at the first meeting to include (but not limited to)
- The reduction on the duration of the contract
- Reacquisition of the terrestrial TV rights for Sub-Saharan Africa
- Increase in the minimum guarantee ($1billion) due to expansion of competitions
- Exploitation of digital and new media
- A new CAF website
- A bank guarantee by LSE to cover the new minimum guarantee
- Review the agency commission paid to LSE
- To agree on the terrestrial TV rights for North Africa.
Unfortunately, CAF did not follow through for the 2nd meeting despite several reminders, and went on with the business-as-usual attitude during all the 2018 and 2019 competitions including the AFCON last June-July.
However when matters inside CAF came to a head, and President Ahmad was arrested and humiliated in Paris for bribery, theft and money-laundering, questions began to arise about CAF finances.
FIFA’s decision to intervene by sending its SG Fatma Samoura to manage CAF for 6-months triggered a panic among the CAF mandarins, who knew that it was only a matter of time before their mismanagement of CAF financial affairs came to the fore.
Along with Mme. Samoura came elements of the PWC Switserland office to conduct an audit of CAF, which was quite clever too, lest CAF officials later tried to lay the blame for missing funds at the feet of Samoura.
Mme. Samoura took over at CAF on 1st August 2019 and shortly thereafter had PWC embark on the audit of CAF books of finance.
So, before the conclusion of the PWC audit, CAF created a red herring, to divert attention away from their financial malfeasance, by claiming that there was something seriously wrong with the CAF contract with LSE, which was causing them to get much less money than they (CAF) believed they were worth.
At the CAF Ordinary General Assembly in July 2019, CAF Finance committee Chairman Fouzi Lekjaa had already painted the backdrop of this narrative by claiming to members that unless more money was injected into CAF, the organization would be in the financial red within a few years.
This was an organization that had in excess $130 million in cash reserves by the March 2017 departure of former President Issa Hayatou.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino, bought this ruse hook, line and sinker! Infantino, who sees himself as a problem-solver, agreed with the decision to terminate the contract with LSE and even created the mechanism with China to trade-off the award of the expanded Club World Cup 2021 (CWC), with a deal to acquire the CAF commercial rights by Chinese top sports marketing agency, Dalian Wanda.
Inside CAF, Dalian Wanda have a sleeper agent, in the person of Franco-Algerian Hedi Hemel who was CEO of French marketing outfit, TVMS and had previously partnered with Infront Sports Media (subsidiary of Dalian Wanda) as recently as in 2016 in selling TV rights to the Olympics in Africa.
Hemel resigned his post in 2017 to take up the position of Special Adviser to CAF boss, Ahmad. He was appointed through a special sitting of the CAF Emergency Committee, which has usurped the role of virtually all other organs of the continental football body, and appropriated powers to itself without any form of checks and balances from other statutory bodies.
Heidi Hamel earns a whopping $30,000 in net salary, plus he is also paid the daily allowance accorded to other individuals of $125. His costs and hotels are also covered by the Confederation, over and above being entitled to a commission for every marketing transaction or deal concluded by CAF, with speculation being rife that he could be CAF President Ahmad Ahmad’s money laundering conduit.
However, it seems that the deal with China continues to unravel with the unprecedented outbreak of global pandemic COVID-19.
Already super-Confederations UEFA and CONMEBOL have agreed to postpone their own flagship competitions EURO 2020 and COPA AMERICA 2020, to the European summer of 2021, thereby kicking out the CWC from its proposed slot.
Gianni Infantino has agreed with them, choosing a more conciliatory tone (quite unlike him) to find another time slot for the postponed CWC.
Realistically, with US President Donald Trump gleefully referring to the Coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus” and “Kung Flu” he has effectively stigmatized and undermined China to the rest of the World, which will make rescheduling of the CWC in that country a very tall order.
As long as there remains no CWC in China, there would be no reciprocal commercial deal with CAF by Dalian Wanda.
Which is why CAF has now decided to regurgitate its own actions (like dogs often do with their food) and offer piece-meal allocations for the commercials to competitions that would terminate with the AFCON 2021 in Cameroon.
Many questions abound, who would be willing to take up CAF as a serious partner when considering the extremely shabby treatment it dealt LSE? Would the new partner be expected to find brandnew partners or would they waltz in to hold the hands of existing partners like Total, and would they earn commission for work that they didn’t actually execute with such partners?
In an interview a few weeks ago in Kinshasa, CAF 1st VP Constant Omari was quoted as saying that they (CAF) were open to renegotiating with LSE for their return, as long as their earlier concerns were addressed.
A lot depends on the perception of LSE CEO Andrew Georgiou and Africa head Idriss Akki, on whether they would do away with the $90 million terminal arbitration at the ICC and enter renegotiations with CAF.
Africa boss Idris Akki would need to amend his naiveté when dealing with CAF mandarins, considering how badly he botched it the first time around, by being sucked into the fold of the “Muslim brotherhood” of CAF, he genuinely felt (quite erroneously) that he was “one of them” and thus secure from their well-known vicissitudes.
Nothing brings this misconception home more vividly than the picture showing Akki with Ahmad, accompanied by the recently escaped CAF GS Mouad Hajji and former Egypt FA President Hany Abo Rida in Saudi Arabia for the Umrah in 2019.
More importantly, LSE had by this time also lost the commercial deal with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) that ends in 2020, to be replaced by DDMC Sports International division of Chinese sports and entertainment company Wuhan DDMC Culture Co, and the Fortis Sports Agency.
Quite appetizingly, the 8-year AFC deal (2021-2028) is for a reported $4 Billion and to compound just how lucrative it is for the Asian confederation, Media rights in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region were separated out and will be sold separately.
Strangely, in one of the very first acts of his Presidency, CAF boss Ahmad Ahmad wrote a letter to Sheikh Salman, the President of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to strongly recommend LSE for the renewal of their contract, which had been in effect since 1993.
Ahmad was writing this recommendation to Prince Salman a year after the African FAs had snookered him in the vote for FIFA Presidency, in a putsch organized by Ahmad, in favour of Infantino.
What is worse is that the African FA Presidents shamelessly “ate” his money and refused to give him their votes, an issue that Prince Salman takes extremely personally.
To date, the AFC President looks upon the African confederation and its leadership and members as the scum of the earth.
Why then would Ahmad lobby so strongly for the AFC to renew their contract with LSE, just 2-days after his election, then proceed to complain ad infintum about his own confederations contract with LSE?
The back-to-back losses of both the AFC and CAF contracts by LSE immediately impacted its prospective sale and price, at the time, with real interest from Wasserman, the sports marketing company and talent agency, and Mediapro, the Spain-based production and media rights group.
However, Mediapro’s interest was said to have cooled and the loss of the CAF rights could make any intensification of its interest very unlikely.
It is therefore impossible to combine piccaninny interests of CAF mandarins (like looting CAF) with serious commercial business of the likes of LSE and its owner Arnaud Lagardère.
So, will we witness the return of LSE to CAF and will such a return reset things to default position? Currently African football fans suffer for lack of broadcast of their competitions since the likes of Pan African sports broadcaster Supersport chose to “exit stage left” from the CAF deals.
In this COVID-19 induced lull in global activities, we can only wait to see who else would be interested in the chaos at CAF and African football in general.