English Premier League coup is a smart play for SABC 3
Securing EPL matches could be a shrewd move, despite the noise about a scarcity of live local sport on TV
Forget that the SABC reportedly has just R26m in its bank account for the month – it may have finally made a smart decision, even if it pisses off some local sports administrators.
This is because on the same day that the SABC board reportedly told parliament that it was in a “very dire” financial situation, it later announced that its commercial TV station, SABC 3, had found something in its kitty to be able to secure English Premier League (EPL) matches.
According to a press release, SABC 3 would begin screening live matches from this weekend, and one live match every Saturday onwards.
“SABC 3 is going to provide South Africans who love sports, and in particular soccer, the opportunity to access some of the greatest teams in the world in one of the biggest leagues globally for free. The Premier League has a strong brand equity that we believe will contribute towards the building of the SABC 3 brand,” said David Makubyane, the GM: SABC TV Channels. It’s a coup for the channel, and could be a shrewd move.It is no secret that the EPL brand is a behemoth, and rights to broadcast its matches – featuring some of the biggest names in world football – are always feverishly contested. It is a very big reason that SuperSport remains attractive to viewers, even though most of them would love to do away with the ridiculously priced DStv platform.
Smartly, DStv has so far refused to offer SuperSport separately, since it would likely render the rest of the content on its platform useless. SuperSport drives the biggest revenue on the DStv platform, and the bulk of its subscriber base is on the pricey Premium package – easily offsetting the costs of paying for (and housing) the rest of the content on its platform.
Earlier this year, digital platform Amazon secured partial rights to EPL games for the next three years, while Sky and BT secured the biggest chunk of the domestic screening rights there, paying close to a combined R85bn, so they could give fans a chance to see Kevin de Bruyne, Mo Salah, Paul Pogba, Sadio Mane, Eden Hazard, Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and the rest of the stars who make up the EPL spectacle.
The thirst is so great for the product that Facebook beat out television networks in Asia to gain live-broadcast rights in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos until at least 2022.
The EPL knows it has a globally recognisable, not to mention highly attractive, product and can negotiate from a strong position. Equally, broadcasters gain a highly successful brand that draws many viewers, and therefore advertisers. The SABC is not able to survive without these. According to its 2016/17 annual report, revenue and other income for that period amount to R7.6bn, of which R5.6bn came from advertising.
The biggest issue for some detractors is the scarcity of local sports teams being shown live on TV. The SABC knows how expensive live broadcasts are. But despite its mandate as a public broadcaster (the Broadcasting Act of 1999 requires it to submit annual reports on which national sporting events are covered), it would rather be liable for a stern talking-to for missing the targets than fall deeper into the mire by missing out on lucrative international products (beneficial to the bottom line) such as the EPL.This month the SABC announced it would no longer air live PSL games on radio, but later did a U-turn by announcing it had entered an “interim agreement” with the PSL to resume broadcasting the games. In February, SuperSport had to be begged by SA Rugby to waive broadcast fees for Super Rugby matches, so that rugby would remain on SABC radio.
All of these issues were born from the liquidity problems affecting the broadcaster and its ability to acquire sports rights in general.
The Currie Cup and Super Rugby are already not televised on SABC, and taking away radio would have made the game inaccessible to those who cannot afford subscription fees to DStv. The same goes for other codes, including cricket.
In acquiring these rights, the SABC is counting on the noise made by fans of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal drowning those who wonder why the SABC is not redirecting those funds to broadcasting domestic competitions in various sporting codes.
It is simple: the EPL is an unfailing cash cow with billions of viewers globally, and it makes worse business sense not to invest in it for fear of a backlash.