Bafana Bafana may have enjoyed strong support throughout the tournament, but South Africa failed to attract enough fans from other countries.

Cape Town – Municipalities that splashed out on getting their cities ready for the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) shouldn’t expect too much return on their investment, say economists.

Some host cities, still struggling with cash flow after the 2010 World Cup, spent hundreds of millions of rand on transport and safety plans for the tournament, now in its final stages.

The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality cut R11.6 million from its annual service delivery budget just to pay for the tournament. It was also reported that the Mbombela Municipality in Nelspruit did not have a complete business plan underpinning its hosting of Afcon nor did they sign a memorandum of understanding to get R31.5m from national government for visiting teams and support staff.

Economists say Afcon organisers also “missed a crucial opportunity” to use the event to market the country on the African continent.

“It appears that many consumers experience this tournament as an anti-climax,” said Dr Nikolaus Eberl, branding guru and chief executive of Joburg-based reputation management company BrandOvation.

“Comparing it to the 2010 Fifa World Cup, it clearly does not evoke nearly as much emotional engagement and passion and whether organisers like it or not, almost everybody is still holding up the mirror of 2010, and making mental notes in comparison.”

Unlike 2010, there was no shared goal to drive the public’s interest.

“In 2010, everybody had a hand in delivering the country’s brand promise of ‘hosting the most successful Fifa World Cup ever’ – this time around, there is no such vision and collective purpose other than the games.”

Melville Saayman, a professor of tourism research and economics at North-West University, said the Afcon local organising committee (LOC) failed at marketing the event here and on the rest of the continent.

“This was a missed opportunity that we could have used to grow the African market… “ Saayman said.

“No special packages were on offer for tourists. If we marketed the event properly from the start and got the various role players involved then it could have been an enormous success. We missed a major opportunity.”

Saayman said the economic impact of Afcon 2013 could only be calculated after the event by visitor arrival figures.

Dr Johan Fourie, a senior lecturer at Stellenbosch University’s economics department, said: “We have to ask whether it is being hosted as a favour or if South Africa anticipated any real gains from hosting the event? Or was it a political decision?”

Originally Libya won the right to host the tournament after defeating a Nigerian bid along with three other bid-winning nations, Angola, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. But the Libyan civil war prompted Libya to trade years with South Africa, so that Libya hosts in 2017.

Fourie said the impact of mega events did not always benefit the hosting municipalities directly.

“Mega events are always a public good overall,” he said. “The larger gain is not return on investment, but having hosted the event and using that as a part of future marketing. I don’t think the host cities will see visitors flocking in because of the event.”

Asked about the expected returns for host municipalities, Afcon LOC spokesman Sipho Sithole declined to say.

“We’re here to ensure that this event is a successfor Africa, not just (for) South Africa.”

Getting the nation behind the tournament and ensuring full stadiums were the LOC’s main goals going into the tournament.

According to a summary of its budget presented to Parliament last year, the LOC expects an income of R335 200 860, of which an amount of R205 043 200 represents grants from various government departments. Expenses are forecast to total R334 667 721, with a surplus of R533 139.

Sithole said they were “baffled” by the empty seats at some “sold-out” games.

“We are aware that the stadiums have been empty, even though the ticketing system says the venue is fully booked,” Sithole said. “We will be investigating this.” – Cape Argus