Covid-19

Coronavirus deals a mighty blow to SA sports industry

22 March 2020 - 00:04 By SAZI HADEBE, LIAM DEL CARME, KHANYISO TSHWAKU and DAVID ISAACSON
The country's first coronavirus battle was seen in soccer, where SA Football Association (Safa) boss Danny Jordaan beat back sport minister Nathi Mthethwa's suggestion to have Premier Soccer League (PSL) matches continue behind closed doors.
The country's first coronavirus battle was seen in soccer, where SA Football Association (Safa) boss Danny Jordaan beat back sport minister Nathi Mthethwa's suggestion to have Premier Soccer League (PSL) matches continue behind closed doors.
Image: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

The multibillion-rand industry that is South African sport, underwritten by TV rights and sponsorships, faces a rocky future during the coronavirus pandemic.

Industry insiders say it's too early to calculate the costs, because much will depend on whether competitions are cancelled or postponed.

The country's first coronavirus battle was seen in soccer, where SA Football Association (Safa) boss Danny Jordaan beat back sport minister Nathi Mthethwa's suggestion to have Premier Soccer League (PSL) matches continue behind closed doors.

"We could not quantify the issue of the money at this point," PSL chair Irvin Khoza said after confirming there would be no games.

"The important thing was to deal with the issues of safety because what is happening to the country, there's no benchmark."

Mthethwa found himself on the losing side, too, in his attack on the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) for telling the nearly 30,000 entrants that the government would make a call next month on the status of the race, set for June 14.

He insisted it had to be called off, saying he had been supported by Athletics SA (ASA) president Aleck Skhosana.

But ASA issued a statement saying it was now on the same page as CMA, making no mention of a cancellation.

The Comrades is the federation's jewel in the crown of televised events.

Comrades race director Rowyn James told the Sunday Times that they would rather reschedule than cancel. "We will only cancel if instructed by government or ASA."

With a healthy reserve of R22m, CMA can ride out a cancellation.

The Two Oceans Marathon, which has lost its title sponsor and come under fire amid accusations of poor corporate governance, cancelled its 2020 edition and then announced it would not reimburse entry fees of an estimated R10m.

Even after paying service providers, it could be left with enough to try to steady its rocky ship over the next year.

Stadium Management of SA (SMSA) are already sweating over an empty future of its venues around Johannesburg and Soweto. "FNB Stadium alone has an electricity bill of R500,000 a month," said SMSA CEO Bertie Grobbelaar.

We will only cancel if instructed by government or ASA
Comrades race director Rowyn James 

"We're now trying to negotiate with the City of Johannesburg because that's obviously very difficult to carry if there's no action at the stadiums.

"We've already missed 18 different events in the past two weeks [over and above football] and we expect this thing [the coronavirus] to last for the next four months."

Central Gauteng Lions CEO Jono Leaf-Wright said the cricket body was getting by at its base at the Wanderers.

"We haven't put the stadium on lock down and we're blessed to have the tenants we have at the Wanderers.

"That's one of the reasons we haven't put the stadium on lock down because it would be unfair on them."

Super Rugby has seen 36% of its matches played thus far this season, which means SA Rugby stands to lose 64% of its broadcast and sponsorship revenue if the tournament is called off.

One source told the Sunday Times sponsorship funds won't necessarily be paid back if the competition can't run its course. "It is complicated because every contract is different," he said.

"One cannot take a blanket view here. Besides, if there is a breach of contract with a sponsor there is a 30-day period to find a solution and in the case of a broadcaster I believe it is 60 days.

"That will allow for different scenarios including playing in front of empty stadiums."

Sharks CEO Eduard Coetzee said the coronavirus had come at the wrong time for the Sharks, whose improved play this season could have drawn greater crowds.

"The attendances were going to grow if we continued with the way we're playing. That's not going to happen so that's going to be a direct loss."

In the current no-play scenario, teams can at least make some savings, especially so for a team like the Stormers, who have yet to tour. The grant of around R2m a year for overseas travel, for the four matches in Australasia, and a game each in Argentina as well as Japan or Singapore, can be about R500,000.

"There are always unexpected expenses. Players get injured when they are on tour and replacements need to be flown out," said a source.

Equally, it can cost franchises to stage matches in empty stadiums. When the Lions hosted the Reds in front of a sparse crowd at Ellis Park earlier this season they incurred a R250,000 loss.

Most organisations are adopting a wait-and-see attitude. But if contracts were to be strictly enforced and if there was no resumption of play, losses would be in the hundreds of millions.


Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.