African billionaires who see business sense in football

A photo combo of Confederation of African Football (Caf) President Patrice Motsepe (L) and Tanzanian investor Mohammed Dewji.

By The East African

Football in Africa is some sort of religion. But beyond the passionate cheers and talent, it has started making business sense, attracting some of the richest folk in the land.

Two prominent figures, Patrice Motsepe of South Africa and Mohammed Dewji of Tanzania, are the latest entrants. The two are among Africa’s dollar billionaires, but their entry into football is being seen as further investment in the good game rather than philanthropy.

The two are on 2024 Forbes list of Africa’s top 20 billionaires, marking a significant milestone for the continent’s sporting landscape. Of course, they have made most of their wealth outside of football.

Motsepe, the current President of the Confederation of African Football (Caf), has a net worth of $2.7 billion. He owns Mamelodi Sundowns club and has been a vocal advocate for African football development and investment.

His influence stretches beyond South Africa, where Sundowns, based in Pretoria, has become a continental powerhouse, regularly featuring in the Caf Champions League knockout stages and even clinching the title in 2016.

They rule the roost in South African football and have won six successive league titles, thanks to the immense investment made by Motsepe. It is no wonder that the South African national football team, Bafana Bafana, has 11 players from the Sundowns, at the Afcon tournament.

“Sundowns just signed an Argentinian player for $47 million. Not too many clubs in Africa invest that kind of money in a player,” said Tokelo Mokhesi, a journalist who has covered South African football.

Mokhesi believes that, thanks to the billionaire mining magnate, Sundowns “are 10 years ahead of the pack in South Africa”.

On the Forbes list, Motsepe is closely followed by Tanzania’s youngest billionaire, Dewji, who is in the 12th position. The 48-year-old philanthropist, nicknamed Mo, is the majority shareholder of Simba SC, another East African football giant.

Dewji’s MeTL Group is the largest private employer in Tanzania, according to official statistics. But his contribution to society is most seen in the meteoric rise of Simba SC, the Tanzanian club. Under his leadership, Simba has transformed into a continental powerhouse, consistently competing at the highest level in Caf competitions.

Dewji has said in a past interview that he advocates greater recognition and fairer representation of African football on the global stage.

“Dewiji has taken Simba and made them a continental force.

They are now competitive in Caf competitions; he is among those trying to ensure African football gets its right foot on the global stage,” said Nqobile Ndlovu of Cash ‘N Sport, a sports finance expert platform.

Both Motsepe and Dewji have actively championed the advancement of African football.

Their efforts extend to initiatives like the inaugural Africa Football League (AFL), a collaborative project to raise the game’s standards across the continent.

Sundowns emerged victorious in the AFL’s debut season, showcasing Motsepe’ s financial clout and commitment to attracting elite players from across the globe.

Ndlovu believes the landscape of African football is transforming, fueled by the influential wealthy people like Motsepe and Dewji. But of course, African football has had a lingering problem of mismanagement and corruption.

A financial report by Caf last year did allude to this, saying it was making reform to adjust the way it governs football matters.

“Caf had to take some difficult decisions on the longstanding dispute with some of our partners by settling matters out of court. This, plus other accounting standards provisions recommended by Caf auditors, were fully provided for in the Financials.

Having made their monies elsewhere, some observers think these wealthy people could gradually inject discipline in sport, making it an attractive venue to invest.

Ndlovu says the impact on football in Tanzania, South Africa and continentally is already redefining future events. Caf has had its revenue steadied, boosted by high-value TV rights deals.

According to Caf, its commercial revenue for 2022 reached to $125.2 million, some $21.6 million more than the previous year, a 17 percent rise.

It says it raised prize monies for tournaments by five percent “driving Caf’s goal of making African Football globally competitive,” according to an official dispatch from Caf.

The figures for 2023 have not been published but a statement from Caf said “the significant increase of $21.6 million in revenue growth over the previous financial year was largely driven by an increase in both Caf’s sponsorship and television rights, setting the Organisation firmly on a path to financial recovery.”

Afcon is being sponsored by French oil major TotalEnergies, which has been the main sponsor since 2016 for: The Africa Cup of Nations, African Nations Championship, Caf inter-club competition (Caf Champions League, Caf Confederation Cup and Caf Super Cup, Youth competitions (U-23, U-20 and U-17 Africa Cup of Nations), Women Africa Cup of Nations and Futsal Africa Cup of Nations.

Afcon also and attracted Sky Sports, a major pay-per-view broadcaster in the West. Other sponsors include merchant payment platform Visa and betting firm 1XBet. Caf has recently made it mandatory for all clubs subscribing to its competitions to have the women’s’ sides, having established the Women’s Champions League, coupled with increased prize money.

Motsepe has indicated his ambition is to make African football self-reliant and end the bad tradition of reaching for handouts from donors.