SABC's total soccer blackout: radio barred from even giving scores
The SABC's TV blackout of premier soccer coverage has spread to radio, leaving millions of soccer-loving South Africans in the lurch after the broadcaster this week told radio stations to cancel any coverage or commentary of the Absa premiership.
The radio blackout - announced in an e-mail sent to radio stations on Thursday - is the latest move in the public broadcaster's titanic battle with the Premier Soccer League (PSL) for broadcast rights.
Several premiership clubs, including Kaizer Chiefs and Black Leopards, had planned to promote this weekend's matches on different stations on Thursday.
But the stations, which rely heavily on domestic soccer for content, were left scrambling at the 11th hour after SABC radio general manager Leuba Ramakgolo instructed all stations not to promote any content related to the PSL and the premiership.
The 18 stations, which have more than 27.5-million listeners, are not even allowed to mention the scores of PSL matches.
The radio blackout has heightened an already volatile environment at the SABC.
Last week the broadcaster announced it had declined a R280m deal with SuperSport to screen PSL matches, claiming it was not viable. SuperSport holds the right to screen matches. The season started last Saturday.
SABC acting chief operations officer Craig van Rooyen said that "for the financial sustainability of the SABC, we will not continue with deals that are not commercially viable".
The SABC is battling a financial crisis and has asked the National Treasury for a R3.2bn bailout. The Treasury has responded with an exhaustive list of conditions that the broadcaster must comply with to receive progressive tranches of the bailout.
Among them is that the SABC must investigate and hold to account people implicated in previous investigations of corruption and mismanagement. Other conditions include the identification of non-core assets that can be sold and a timeline of when this could happen, as well as initiatives the SABC can take to raise its own revenue.
At the end of May, the broadcaster had to choose between paying salaries or its municipal bills, opting to settle the former and incurring a R13.5m debt to the City of Johannesburg.
In the e-mail, Ramakgolo says: ''We have been receiving inquiries from stations regarding what the limitations are when it comes to PSL-related content.
''Some of the stations have indicated that they have been approached by individual teams seeking to enter into partnership and possible trade exchanges with them.
''For example, a team in Limpopo approached one of the stations seeking promotion of their game and their trip to Durban.
''Please make sure that the programme managers are informed that we cannot promote any PSL games nor conduct interviews with the teams, the players and any role-players in the PSL business until an agreement is in place between the SABC and the PSL. Such agreement will clearly stipulate the terms and conditions under which execution would take place.
''This is to avoid any possible litigation that may emanate from our on-air conduct."
Approached yesterday, SABC board chair Bongumusa Makhathini said he could not comment on operational matters. Ramakgolo declined to comment, referring the Sunday Times to spokesperson Vuyo Mthembu, who did not respond to questions. The SABC had not responded to queries at the time of going to press last night.
The radio blackout has left some SABC staff dumbfounded, as the stations are still allowed to carry rugby and cricket content even though the public broadcaster does not have rights to those sporting codes' games.
Many radio stations rely on PSL and Absa premiership content. About 87% of the content on Marawa Sport Worldwide, presented by Robert Marawa, relates to local football. Thabiso Mosia's SAfm show Sport On covers various sporting codes, but up to 70% of its content is PSL-related.
The blackout will come as a blow to soccer lovers who do not have access to DStv.
The SABC has failed to televise premiership matches since the start of the season last week after it insisted that acquiring the rights at the current cost of R280m for 144 games a year is not commercially viable, as the broadcaster will make revenue of just R47m a year.
Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams and sports minister Nathi Mthethwa met the SABC this week to discuss the impasse.
There's no luxury for brinkmanship on this matter and we need all the parties to pull together for the sake of sportSports minister Nathi Mthethwa
Mthethwa yesterday appealed to all parties to find common ground on behalf of millions of South African soccer fans.
''There's no luxury for brinkmanship on this matter and we need all the parties to pull together for the sake of sport, of the people of our land and for the future of our nation," he said yesterday.
''Co-operation will be for the benefit of all. This situation is unfortunate and undesirable and myself and my cabinet colleague … Ndabeni Abrahams are in constant engagement together with all other relevant stakeholders to procure a long-lasting solution and for things to return to normality.
''Our people don't deserve this. As government we are committed to find an urgent solution to this matter."
Ndabeni-Abrahams and PSL chair Irvin Khoza did not respond to questions.
In June 2007 the PSL awarded exclusive rights to broadcast domestic premiership matches to SuperSport in a deal worth more than R1bn over five years. The decision raised the ire of politicians at the time as premiership matches had been carried on the SABC for many years.
SuperSport won the rights again in 2011 when they came up for renewal, outbidding the SABC and paying R1.6bn. The broadcast costs have risen to more than R2bn in recent years, completely out of the SABC's reach.
The public broadcaster has relied on a sub-licence agreement with SuperSport, which it can no longer afford to pay.
The SABC made an offer for SABC radio broadcasting rights to the value of R53m in a trade exchange for airtime. This offer has yet to be accepted by the PSL as the public broadcaster still owes it R280m from the previous year.
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