Former CAF finance chair Patel warns of tough times ahead after LS cancellation

By Osasu Obayiuwana

December 11 – Suketu Patel, a former leading official of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), who was at the centre of negotiations for the 12-year $1 billion marketing deal with French company Lagardere Sports (LS), is predicting that the contract’s recent cancellation will lead to “a very difficult period” for CAF.

Patel, who was CAF’s first Vice-President and the longstanding chairman of its Finance Committee, during the presidency of Cameroonian Issa Hayatou, expects Lagardere to give CAF a tough legal battle, in order to protect their financial and legal rights.

“I know Lagardere. They will not take this lightly and will rightly extract their pound of flesh,” said the former Seychelles FA president.

“The lack of clarity (with regards to CAF’s situation with LS) is already hurting, vis-a-vis the sponsors, with whom, besides Lagardere, CAF have a contract to deliver a fixed number of tournaments.”

“I fear CAF will become embroiled in legal cases for the foreseeable future, which will detract from its core obligation to develop African football. Recently there was a declaration from BEIN Sport that currently football properties are overvalued and not sustainable, due to piracy and changes in the medium used to disseminate matches. One has to see if the timing for the change is right, as shown by SuperSport.”

SuperSport, the Pan-African Pay-TV broadcaster, which has a $130 million contract with CAF (which is CAF’s second largest single contract, after the $400 million deal with BeIN Sport), seeks to terminate its contract with CAF, as a result of the CAF-LS dispute.

“It is clear Infront (owned by Chinese company Dalian Wanda) have deep pockets. But do they have the expertise to deliver quality production of matches, knowing the peculiarities of the African environment? Moreover, what message do we give to the world – that CAF will prostitute itself, irrespective of contracts made, if better offers come along?” Patel asks.

“A lot of people have compared the Asian Football Confederation contract (of $4 billion for eight years, starting from 2021) with that of CAF. But we have to compare the economic powers of the two continents – Asia has Japan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, China, Australia, South Korea and India with independent media, as opposed to primarily government-owned [media] organisations [in Africa], with little or no budget [for television rights].”

“The Memorandum Of Understanding with Lagardere was agreed by a team I led with Hicham (Amrani, then CAF General Secretary) in May 2005, in Zurich,” Patel recalls.

“This was at the same time that people were arrested at the FIFA hotel. On that same day, we met with Infront and the owner of Dalian Wanda. Their indicative offer on the table was a $450 million Minimum Guarantee (MG) for eight years, as opposed to the $1 billion, for 12 years, from Lagardere.

“If you look at our earlier contract of 2009, we had a MG of $150 million, but our income for the period was actually around $350 million. We anticipated that the 12-year contract would have yielded around $1.3 billion.”

Suketu Patel’s extensive Q&A with Osasu Obayiuwana, on his CAF career, CAF’s finances, his thoughts on CAF President Ahmad and the future of African football, will appear on these pages.