The Africa Cup of Nations – Biennial rights farce plays 27th time as LC2-AFNEX practices daylight robbery

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Much has already been written about the tragic shooting up of the Togolese team’s bus in Cabinda. Alongside this, what follows may seem relatively petty. But every time the Africa Cup of Nations is played, there is an unseemly tussle over the cost of rights. The sales agent LC2-AFNEX names unrealistic prices for buying the rights. Many African broadcasters throw up their hands in horror and say they cannot afford it. At the last minute, some get Government funding to help and LC2 accepts a lower price. All of which happens weeks or days before the Cup so promoting the event in the run-up is lost. Russell Southwood thinks there has to be a better way to help African football and broadcasting to help each other grow.

The organizers of the Africa Cup of Nations are the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and the biennial event dubbed Angola 2010 is the 27th time it has been played. CAF sells the rights to broadcast the event’s matches to a company called LC2-AFNEX which through LC2 Medias is owned by LC2 TVNETELECOM. The latter is a Beninois company launched in 1997 that also does regional Pay TV and has recently got into Internet TV. It got its first contract to sell the event in 2003. The African Union of Broadcasters is supposed to assist the process and support it with a marketing plan.

However, in effect, the AUB has become implicated in the whole process of trying to get extremely high rights fees out of African broadcasters. The issue has been a running sore for many years so when the AUB’s CEO wrote to broadcasters on 30 December 2009 he attempted to strike a conciliatory note:

Atiase said the fees have been segmented into different groups. Under the reference AUB/LC2 -- AFNEX Final Proposal, AFCON 2010 broadcast rights, Atiase wrote;

"I have the pleasure to inform you that AUB/LC2-AFNex negotiations on AFCON 2010 broadcast rights have led to proposals indicated below (figures in euros):

Countries Initial proposal Final proposal

Group 1 3 500 000 3 500 000

Group II 1 500 000 1 340 000

Group III 750 000 500 000

Group IV 450 000 354 000

Group V 350 000 280 000

AUB and LC2-AFNEX have agreed on the importance of reducing rights fees to enable the broadcasting organisations in all African countries to broadcast the matches.

"Both organisations have also agreed henceforth to work together to find ways and means of further reducing the broadcast right fees for the 2012, 2014 and 2016 African Cup of Nations, including sustaining the AUB marketing plan. Consequently, your organisation is requested to confirm its participation in the coverage of AFCON 2010 in writing to AUB secretariat while granting the Union three minutes of airtime as well as pay the broadcast rights fee latest on the 7th of January 2010.

"AUB will present a report on the utilisation of airtime granted by member organisations to reduce the cost of broadcast rights fees," wrote Atiase.

But as happens every time, there were winners and losers in the Africa Cup of Nations rights farce. Nigeria’s NTA put up the money to secure the 28 live matches and all subsequent tournament matches through to 2014. NTA’s zonal director, Yusuf Jibo said when it was announced that he was willing to work with other TV stations (by implication private sector ones) to increase match coverage. But this pitch was also carried an implicit threat as in the past there has been extensive pirating of transmissions and he wanted to avoid this by signing agreements in which it collects revenues.

By contrast, Zimbabwe’s ZTV was unable to afford the 3.5 million euros (about US$5,047 million) for the matches to be beamed on the channel. According to ZBC public relations manager Sivukile Simango: "ZBH does not have that kind of money to spend on a tournament which only lasts 22 days. The figure they are requesting is far much more than what we could afford,". He said the national broadcaster would rather use the money demanded by Caf to procure equipment such as an outside broadcasting van. He promised live match updates as a rather poor substitute for live coverage. The issue has been a subject of some controversy in the country because the World Cup screening rights have by contrast cost just US$75,000.

Kenya’s KBC went on record as saying:” KBC, however, regrets that the costs of the TV rights for the tournaments are still too high as to make any socio-economic sense…most business companies and concerns are on end of year vacations and will resume on 11th January 2010. On account thereof it will be difficult to commercially exploit the events assuming that the cost was reasonable and agreeable. Consequently, KBC cannot, in the circumstances and given the onerous acquisition conditions, take the rights just like UBC (the Ugandan public broadcaster)..

Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation also echoed these sentiments:” We at TBC totally support you and those of you who find the costs too high.We also cannot afford and the time has almost run out for soliciting any sponsors”.

The NBC’s Sackie Shikufa also said the same:”The Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) regrets to inform you that due to the high price of the broadcast rights for this AFCON in Angola, NBC will not be able to broadcast the tournament. And I'm also concurring with my colleagues who expressed their concern about the high right fee”.

According to Uganda’s UBC’s Sales Manager William Odoch”…we regret to let you know the UBC cannot afford the rights to air 2010 AFCON Angola.Our position was to retain the rates at the 2008 AFCON Ghana which is way over and above the quotation. We hope the rates will be more affordable next AFCON and in good time. UBC can now communicate its inability to afford the games and prepare Ugandans

Three Ghanaian Television stations have resorted to the African Union Broadcasting (AUB) to secure broadcast rights for the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola 2010. The stations -- Metro TV, TV3 and state-owned GTV -- could not foot the whopping US$ 1.5 million quoted by right owners AFNEX LC2.

We have spoken with AUB and I am very hopeful that we will be able to tie the deal in the shortest possible time," Optimum Media Prime (Metro TV) managing director Ken Ashigbey told Ghanasoccernet.com."The US$1,5 million is on a high side for the Ghanaian economy and many economies in Africa especially will struggle to find the money. We have told them there is unity in strength and because this is an African event, it is imperative that Africans are given the right to watch the tournament and enjoy it."

Atiase said AUB had noted with concern the valid points raised by its members over the high fees but does not have the powers to reduce the fees since they are not the broadcast rights offer holders. In other words, the AUB is powerless to act as a negotiating party on behalf of others.

Instead the AUB made proposals that the following sponsors shall be given the right of first offer for 30 days: Orange, Standard Bank, Pepsi, Puma, Nasuba Express and Samsung. But this was probably too little, too late. Furthermore, although the AUB is talking about lowering the rights fees it is only going to do this by trying to raise the sponsorship revenues. This does not address the central question of: why are the rights fees for Africa’s homegrown tournament so overpriced? The broadcasters are also barred from the barter system.

The Botswana government reportedly approved state broadcaster, Botswana Television (Btv) request for funds to acquire the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) broadcasting rights but a blunder led to the games blackout. The state reportedly approved Btv's request for the broadcasting of the AFCON finals, which kicked off in Angola on Sunday. Btv viewers were left in a lurch after the state broadcaster stopped the live transmission of games on Monday. Payment was reportedly not made on time, resulting in the blackout on live coverage. The sum involved was US$4.8 million.

African state broadcasters have tended to be the favoured party to sell rights to because they have wider coverage than their private sector peers. However, with notable exceptions, forward planning is not their strong skill. Therefore raising sponsorship takes place at the last minute. For its part, the rights holder waits until the last minute before signalling any last minute drops in price so as not to spoil the lucrative deals from those who can make the payments demanded.

Any number of things are wrong with how the current process works. The AUB is not an effective body to represent all broadcasters and private sector broadcasters are not getting the kind of “look in” they should. The sharing of rights in Ghana is an interesting approach as it is difficult to imagine any single broadcaster clearing its schedule for all 28 matches across 22 days.

But the nub of the difficulty is CAF’s attitude to the business: maximising its income is not necessarily the best way to help develop an ecology of broadcasters, sponsors and fans to develop Africa’s home grown tournament. The rights are absurdly expensive and there is little evidence that the Confederation of African Football has done much as much as it could with the funds raised. An investigation that looked at comparing rights for different sports events should bring pressure on them to lower their fees. This and a more transparent bidding process for the appointment of the sales agent would all be steps in the right direction.