By Paul Nicholson
September 9 – African football has been plunged into more commercial turmoil and intrigue after the Confederation of African Football (CAF) issued a letter on September 1 cancelling, with immediate effect, a $415 million broadcast contract with beIN Sports that has four years still to run.
beIN Media Group CEO Yousef Al-Obaidly has responded by writing to all members of CAF’s executive committee saying that it does not accept the contract termination and that it will challenge the cancellation legally and attempt to overturn it.
While football’s commercial revenues have been booming worldwide, CAF’s are in a disastrous state, a situation exacerbated by the termination in 2019 of a $1 billion+ contract with Lagardere. Since then CAF – under the control of FIFA’s commercial team – has failed to replace those revenues or partnerships and has even had to pay Lagardere $50 million in damages.
Since 2009 beIN Sports invested more than $500 million in CAF rights and is the exclusive broadcaster of national team and club competitions in 23 countries in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as well as in France, USA and Asia Pacific.
The broadcaster has spent the past two years attempting to renegotiate various issues in its current contract, including sending over 10 formal letters to CAF. CAF has demanded payment according to the contract.
beIN’s issues include COVID rebates that have become standard by all rights-owners due to cancelled and disrupted events, as well as the last moving of AFCON 2021 and 2023 which beIN argues materially effects the contract. beIn says CAF has refused to engage with the broadcaster meaningfully and as a partner.
beIN has also been critical of CAF’s refusal to tackle out-of-control broadcast piracy across Africa.
Al-Obaidly maintains that these issues have undermined the value of CAF’s media rights. He also argues the decision,taken without consultation, to introduce a new African Super League is also damaging to the value of CAF’s existing rights and undermines the exclusivity over CAF competitions granted in the contract.
No reason has been forally given for the cancellation of the contract by CAF though it is likely to be over the non-payment and a belief they have new broadcasters ready to step in to pick up the rights.
However, it is a game of extreme brinkmanship by CAF who under their FIFA masters (really the shot callers in anything Arican) have exhibited a shockingly poor track record with building their commercial partnerships in Africa.
In his letter to CAF’s executive committee members Al-Obaidly says they will “robustly defend our legal position”. He also said that they are still open to discussion to resolve the issues and deliver “our long-term financial commitment to African footballthrough to the end of our intended contractual term”.
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