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New Icasa sports regulations are a threat to SABC’s finances

2019-01-08 00:39

In a move that insiders say could sound the death knell for professional sporting codes, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) has published draft regulations aimed at forcing the cash-strapped SABC to broadcast major rugby, cricket, soccer and athletics sporting events.

Icasa published the draft regulations in the Government Gazette shortly before Christmas, seemingly in an attempt to break MultiChoice’s hold on sports broadcasting.

The official purpose of the concept regulations is to “reach a wider audience [for sport] and to strike a balance between audience and revenue”, as well as to “advance equality [and] human dignity through access to sport of national interest to all citizens”.

According to the regulations, free-to-air broadcasters such as the SABC will now be required to broadcast 11 international tournaments live.

These include soccer, cricket, boxing, netball and athletics tournaments.

Currently, the SABC is not forced to carry any live broadcasts of tournaments, which usually carry huge costs.

City Press’ sister publication Rapport has previously reported that two sports governing bodies, the Premier Soccer League and the SA Rugby Union (Saru), had pleaded with Icasa not to change the current sports broadcasting rights regime as it would cut off their greatest income stream.

At the time, Saru chief executive Jurie Roux told Icasa that 55% of its income (R699 million) had emanated from broadcasting rights.

Russell Paul, the acting head of the SA Football Association (Safa), told Rapport that if these regulations were adopted, it would lead to major financial losses for soccer and other major sporting codes.

“Safa will, under no circumstances, accept this because it will have an overwhelmingly negative impact on the development of soccer,” said Paul.

“The sale of broadcasting rights is our core income for the development of soccer. And we cannot use sponsorship money for developmental purposes because it can only be utilised for the specific teams and tournaments it is allocated to.”

Paul said the SABC simply did not have the money to purchase the necessary broadcasting rights.

The SABC and Safa have been in a deadlock since October because the soccer body has refused to allow the SABC to broadcast Bafana Bafana matches.

Safa wants R150 million for the rights, but the SABC has said it can only afford to pay R10 million.

According to the concept regulations, the SABC would be obliged to broadcast certain Bafana matches – such as those played in the Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup – but the regulations contain no reference to where the money for broadcasting rights should come from.

According to a recent submission to Parliament, the SABC will have a deficit of R680 million by 2021 from the sports broadcasts it currently carries.

William Bird, director of Media Monitoring Africa, said the concept regulations would create no winners.

“It looks as if Icasa is trying to create a balance between public and commercial interests, but, in the end, this just creates an unsustainable situation for broadcasters and sports federations because exclusive broadcasting rights would be taken off the table.”

Bird said that if MultiChoice was forced to purchase less exclusive content, it would also want to pay far less for non-exclusive rights. This could affect income for the various sporting codes.

Icasa spokesperson Paseka Maleka confirmed that the regulations would require MultiChoice to share broadcasting rights with the SABC.

MultiChoice previously told Rapport that it was by far the biggest investor in South African sport, spending about R2 billion on broadcasting rights every year.

Stakeholders will have until February 4 to comment on the concept regulations.

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May 19 2019