COMESA: Competition Commission issues fines for alleged anti-competitive business practices 

The COMESA Competition Commission (CCC) has fined the Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF) and beIN Media Group LLC (beIN) USD 300 000 each, for allegedly engaging in an anti-competitive business practice.

Whilst the CCC has previously issued financial penalties for merger-related contraventions, this is the first matter in which the CCC has imposed a financial penalty for an anti-competitive business practice.

CAF, the governing body of football in Africa to which the national football associations of the various African countries belong, had granted exclusive long-term marketing and broadcasting rights to Lagardère Sports S.A.S (Lagardère Sports) for the main regional football competitions in Africa (which CAF currently has exclusive rights to organise). These include the Africa Cup of Nations, the CAF Confederation Cup, the African Nations Championship and the CAF Champions League. Lagardère Sports in turn granted these rights for an extended period to beIN, in terms of memoranda of understandings concluded in 2014 and 2016 (Agreements).

The CCC’s Committee of Initial Determination (CID) made a determination that certain provisions of the Agreements amounted to restrictive business practices, finding in particular that:

  • the lack of an open tender process for the award of the Pay TV broadcasting rights for CAF competitions resulted in a significant prevention, restriction or distortion of competition within the COMESA Common Market;
  • the durations of the exclusive Agreements were disproportionately long and increased the likelihood of foreclosure; and
  • the scope of the media rights under the Agreements, together with the lack of an open tender process and disproportionate duration of the agreements, was excessive and likely to have resulted in a significant prevention and distortion of competition.

In this regard, the CID issued an order that in relation to the Common Market:

  • all media rights awarded to beIN under the Agreements cease on 31 December 2024;
  • CAF must award all future exclusive media rights by way of an open, transparent, and non-discriminatory tender process;
  • the duration of exclusive agreements entered into by CAF for the exploitation of media rights for CAF competitions be limited to four years, although this period may be extended upon application to the CCC and if granted by the CCC; and
  • CAF shall offer the various media rights as separate, commercially viable packages on a platform neutral basis, directing that no single undertaking shall be allowed to purchase all the media packages, and that where CAF has justifiable grounds to grant all the media packages to a single undertaking, it shall first apply to the CCC for authorisation.

CAF and beIN have 60 business days within which to appeal the CID’s decision to the Appeals Board.