soccer field

TV Rights and the economics of sports in South Africa: proposed broadcasting laws sets a cat amongst the pigeons

January 29, 2019

In South Africa, as in all other countries around the world, the relationship between sporting organisations and broadcasters who pay huge sums of money for the right to broadcast live sporting events generally ensures that those sporting organisations are able to survive financially and at the same time ensuring that the general public are able to watch their favourite sports events on TV. In South Africa, however, a large proportion of the general public have for a long period been unable to watch their favourite sports events on TV due to the inability to afford subscription fees allowing them access to Multichoice’s Supersport channel, which is one of the biggest broadcasters of sport in Africa.

On 14 December 2018 the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa published the Draft Sports Broadcasting Services Amendment Regulations (Draft Regulations). One of the stated aims of the Draft Regulations is to “advance equality [and] human dignity through access to sport of a National interest to all citizens”.

To achieve this aim, the Draft Regulations split sporting events and codes into three categories with each category having its own broadcasting requirements as follows:

Group A: lists compulsory national sporting events (in the public interest) which must be broadcast on free-to-air channels with full live coverage. These sporting events include the Summer Olympic Games, FIFA World Cup, Rugby World Cup, and the ICC Cricket World Cup.

Group B: lists national sporting events which are offered to a subscription broadcasting licensee on a non-exclusive basis under sub-licencing condition. The following events are included in this list: Super Rugby, the Premier Soccer League and the All Africa Games.

Group C: lists minority and developmental sporting codes to be broadcast by both subscription broadcasters and free-to-air broadcasters. These events include; Tennis, Water Polo, Volleyball, Indigenous Games, Chess and Gymnastics. Subscription and free-to-air broadcasters must broadcast at least two of the listed sports codes per annum.

The Draft Regulations are open for public comment until 31 March 2019, unless that date is further extended. There is a long way to go before the Draft Regulations can become law. There will no doubt be much engagement between South Africa’s broadcasting giants Multichoice and the South African Broadcasting Services as well as sporting bodies such as the SA Rugby Union, the Premier Soccer League and Cricket South Africa with the Broadcasting Regulator of South Africa before the final Regulations are published to ensure a commercially sensible solution for all major stakeholders.

The Draft Regulations raise interesting questions of law, economics and politics in the context of South African sport. Watch this space.