The Draft Sports Broadcasting Services Amendment Regulations 2018 was published in the Government Gazette last December.
The stated aim is: “To advance equality and human dignity through access to sport of national interest to all citizens.” It is based on the Electronic Communications Act, which states: “Subscription broadcasting services may not acquire exclusive rights that prevent or hinder the free-to-air broadcasting of national sporting events.”
SuperSport currently broadcasts over 90% of all sport shown in South Africa. Quite simply, MultiChoice can afford to pay the rights fees demanded by the world’s biggest sports events.
ICASA believes this negatively impacts on the many South Africans who cannot afford SuperSport, but whom they feel have a right to watch these events free-to-air on, for example, the SABC.
But passing such an amendment could achieve the exact opposite of what ICASA is hoping for.
Having the rights to a major sports event is one thing. Having the airtime to broadcast that sports event is another.
Dedicated sports broadcasters such as SuperSport or Sky in the UK do not have the challenge public broadcasters face of accommodating all their viewers. The sports pay-per-view broadcasters will never be accused of showing too much sport. A public broadcaster doesn’t have this luxury.
The SABC just doesn’t have enough airtime for sport.
Consider how much sport they’ve broadcast even when they’ve had the rights. Banyana Banyana, the women’s national football team, falls within the SABC’s mandate of broadcasting women’s sport and sports deemed of national interest. The SABC only broadcasted two Banyana Banyana matches in the past three years, when they were obligated to broadcast five a year.
The new regulation would force the SABC to find airtime for more Banyana Banyana matches, as well as 11 other sports codes deemed either of national interest, minority sports or development sports. According to 2017 BMi Sportstrack Report the top five sports receive +90% of all broadcast hours being soccer, cricket, MMA, boxing and road running.
Sports development could also be adversely affected by this amendment.
The big three sports (soccer, cricket and rugby) receive about 60% of their revenue from broadcast sponsorships. If you cut their revenue, they have less to spend on development. The major unions will also have less coming their way for stadium upkeep, and less to pay security personnel or the many casual staff that rely on a big sports event coming to town as a form of income.
In the case of soccer, a large portion of broadcast revenue is ploughed back into the clubs in the Premier Soccer League’s Premier Division and National First Division. Much of this goes towards players’ salaries. A cut here will impact on player retention at clubs, especially the smaller clubs who rely heavily on this money.
It’s clear to me that in this war for free-to-air coverage of sport, all players in the industry are at some point going to suffer collateral damage with a domino effect taking hold and impacting not just the sport but entire communities, from local vendors inside and outside the stadium, taxi drivers, and the extended family of these respectively, the list can go on.
The only upside I can see of such an amendment is better competition amongst broadcasters, which gives the rights holders more options.
It could prove to be a very costly gamble on the part of ICASA.