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VENTURES AFRICA – Football is over and Libya are champions of Africa.Whether their victory at the 2014 Orange African Nations Championship (CHAN) is deserved is a matter for another day, but it is difficult not to feel some joy for Libya who won their first ever-continental title.
With the final whistle of the blown, CAF is no doubt happy to add another successfully executed tournament to its portfolio.
However, hosting the tournament is one thing but making a marketing success of it is another.
From inception, the purpose of the Orange African Nations Championship (CHAN) was to give homegrown footballers a shot at stardom. By creating a competition to feature only home grown footballers, CAF, knowingly or not, will strategically enhance the reputation of local leagues and football on the continent. However, the main strength of the CHAN has turned out to also be its weakness.
It is no secret that Africa’s local leagues are weaker in comparison to leagues across the world. As a result, global interests in these leagues are minimal bar a few notable games like the Soweto derby and the CAF Champions League final. The consequence of this lack of interest from outside the continent is arguably bourne out of a seeming lack of international coverage or interest.
Even within the African continent, the local leagues are not popular as global football brands – especially the major European leagues – offer more excitement.
Perhaps, the main reason for this is the perpetual lack of organization in African football. For instance, administrative and scheduling issues have plagued the Nigeria Premier Football League for years. In Egypt and Libya, the local leagues have been, at different points in time, postponed or cancelled altogether due to internal crises. These factors continue to stunt the growth of local leagues, with CHAN left to bear the brunt.
The biggest evidence of the lack of appeal of the CHAN was the number of empty seats at stadiums. The thrilling quarterfinal game between Morocco and Nigeria at the Cape Town Stadium had 8,000 people in attendance. With the capacity of the stadium standing at 64,000, that accounts for less than 15 percent. Considering the fact that it was one of the few “well-attended” games throws light on the dire numbers this tournament posted. Without the appeal of big names, the CHAN consistently struggled to fill seats. In Group D, Gabon, Congo DR, Burundi and Mauritania all locked horns with group games played at the Peter Mokaba Stadium which has a capacity of 47,000. In the second round of fixtures, Congo DR v Gabon recorded only 2,000 people in attendance while Burundi v Mauritania recorded 3,000. The most negatively striking numbers were recorded in the final round match in Group A when Mozambique played Mali at the 34,000 capacity Athlone Stadium in Cape Town. Only 1,000 people were in the stands.
Suffice to say that the most attended games were those featuring the hosts, South Africa. The hosts’ final game against Nigeria at the Cape Town stadium had 35,000 people in attendance but in comparison, the final between Libya and Ghana, played at the same stadium, had 16,000 people in the stands.
Sponsorship and Branding
CAF recorded little marketing success of the CHAN as there were few new sponsors on board. The title sponsors Orange have sponsored all CAF events as part of a sponsorship agreement signed in 2009. Other long-term partners PepsiCo, Standard Bank and Nasuba Express all had media exposure as part of their primary deals with CAF. Only energy drink brand Power Horse signed on as major sponsors from 2014 through to 2016. CAF will be hoping that more brands recognize the potential of the CHAN to help them leverage on the numbers in the local markets but the football governing body will have an easier task if it ensures that the football associations under its watch develop and commit to organizing better leagues thus encouraging local interest.
South Africa, probably Africa’s best destination for sporting events, did a great job of hosting a tournament once again. But some argue that the country probably recorded negative economic effects hosting another tournament. Again, the lack of appeal of the tournament even to Africans is a worry. Very few made the trip to South Africa and as a result, the ripple effects of tourism for host economies was minimal. Given these records, incentive for other nations to host the event, especially if such countries will need some extra investment in infrastructure, is pretty non-existent.
The African Nations Championship has a chance of being a long-term success but to make that happen, the local leagues in Africa must be developed. Scheduling and administrative issues must be permanently eradicated, as must corrupt and underhand practices which rids the game of its professionalism. The beauty of the problem is that the solution is one that works for everyone involved. Better local leagues will mean more interest locally as well as internationally and this will translate to a better chance of success for CHAN, the development of football and the business of football. Until then, empty seats might continue to fill stadiums.