Ebola and its corresponding effects- mostly adverse- on the African continent. Fears have risen and have been largely validated by signs that the outbreak of the virus could decimate populations and alter demographic balances if it continues unabated. The health challenges so far have crystallized the dire need for vastly improved and modern infrastructure, equipment as well as capacity building. The economic effects, well documented by Ventures Africa, are grim as the World Bank projects losses that run in excess of $30 billion on a continent that is ravished by poverty and a myriad of economic problems.

The effect on sport has also been significant as Africa’s premier football competition, the African Cup of Nations, a proud heritage event that has been held since 1957, is under serious threat of cancellation, postponement or a boycott. Hosts of the 2015 edition Morocco have expressed concerns over hosting the rest of the continent when there is a viral epidemic that has resulted in the deaths of thousands. Their main concerns are fears of ‘importing’ the virus for which there are currently no fail-proof safety measures. Temperature checks cannot provide definitive confirmation as the virus has an incubation period of 21 days before an infected person becomes symptomatic- as such, infected persons yet to physically exhibit symptoms could well slip through whatever safety nets are put in place.

As Morocco pushes for a change in the dates of the tournament, CAF has bullishly insisted that it will go ahead with its plans for AFCON 2015. Even though CAF have stated that it continues to work with the World Health Organization for its unique technical guidance, there might well be a number of other reasons why CAF might be so insistent on making AFCON 2015 happen as planned.

The African Cup of Nations is CAF’s key marketing asset. The event is held every two years and it is CAF’s premier showpiece event. As such, it is a crucial tool for, amongst other noble reasons, revenue generation. For CAF, there are a number of lucrative revenue generation opportunities with the African Cup of Nations and chief amongst these are broadcast rights deals. CAF, having most likely concluded its negotiations and dealings with broadcast right acquisition companies, will be bound by contracts which were signed and for which immense sums were paid. The much discussed 2022 Qatar World Cup also faces the same issue as FIFA will no doubt face an uphill task dealing with various broadcast rights dealers all of whom have purchased the rights to the mundial. The key ingredient with these broadcast rights is that they are more, often than not, time-based. The FIFA World Cup is scheduled to hold in the summer and the timing inevitably affects fine details such as the valuation of said rights and the ability of those who acquire these rights to resell them and thus make a profit. Any changes in such fine details are likely to have a domino effect which may render parties to the contract liable. The case is most likely similar for CAF as could be bound by sensitive contracts for the broadcast of the African Cup of Nations in January and February.

Another vital avenue for revenue generation with the African Cup of Nations is sponsorship and corporate brand association. Brands dedicate gargantuan portions of marketing budgets to high-end sponsorship opportunities which are characterized by two things which are wide interest and vast opportunity for brand publicity. The African Cup of Nations is watched across Africa and many parts of the world and as such it provides the biggest players in corporate Africa, and the world, a fantastic opportunity to align their brands with the event so as to drive publicity and awareness around these brands, trigger brand-centric conversations and also endear said brands to the vast multitude of Africans who will be keeping a keen eye on the African Cup of Nations.

In this regard, CAF have had some joy as they have signed multi-year partnership agreements with some of the biggest brands. Orange, a telecommunications giant with operations in multiple African countries, has an exclusive and lucrative title sponsorship agreement with CAF. Similarly, big brands such as Samsung, Nasuba Express and Pepsi all have big money deals with CAF for sponsorship of the African Cup of Nations. Like broadcast rights deals, these sponsorship agreements are bound by contracts which clearly define terms and dates for the organization and execution of the African Cup of Nations.

Away from the complicated world of contractual stipulations, CAF will also be wary of altering the dates for the African Cup of Nations as the January/February period is the most weather-convenient period during which the African Cup of Nations can be held owing to the peculiar nature of weather conditions on the African continent. Historically, the event has been held in this period and not during the summer period (June, July and August) like all other major international football events as a result of this unique weather factor. In the event that CAF does agree to shift the dates and holds the African Cup of Nations during another period, say April/May, the governing body and many national football FAs will be locked in bitter club versus country rows with European clubs where a majority of African big stars play their club football. The April/May period is the ‘business end’ of the season when a number of competitions are entering crucial and defining stages and clubs will loathe losing their players during such key stages in the season.

Also, changes to the dates will most likely clash with other interests for the global TV audience as the April/May period sees the global football audience captivated by the business end to European football leagues and a shift to the summer period will see a clash with the South American version of the Cup of Nations- Copa America. At a time when CAF strategically hopes to garner a larger percentage of global audiences which will result in increased revenue via a rise in valuation of TV rights and sponsorship money for the AFCON, competing with other global interests is not the wisest move.

CAF faces a tough decision with AFCON 2015 and while there are clearly serious health concerns owing to the outbreak of the Ebola virus, CAF may be plagued, no pun intended, by other factors. As it stands, if Ebola rages on and spreads outside the current affected countries, the risks with hosting the 2015 edition of the African Cup of Nations will increase dramatically. As postponement may seem to be altogether impossible, the choice CAF faces could be going ahead despite the visible risks or outright cancellation of its biggest marketing asset. Proverbially, CAF may be caught between a rock and a hard place.

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