Russell Paul during the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations football match between Zambia and Tunisia at the Ebibeyin Stadium, Ebibeyin, Equatorial Guinea on 22 January 2015 ©Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

The SA Football Association (SAFA) has taken note of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) proposed amendments to the Sports Broadcasting Services Regulations, and like most sporting federations in the country, cannot agree with the proposals.

SAFA commented in. statement released on Saturday that they will vehemently oppose the proposed amendments in the current format, a few days after its professional wing the – Premier Soccer League – threatened to shut down if the amendments were passed.

It is common knowledge that sporting federations in South Africa and the world at large, rely on the sale of their broadcast rights to sustain their development programs and unfunded projects for the growth of the sport – and SAFA is no different in this respect.

SAFA has 9 national teams, 10 interprovincial tournaments, 4 regional leagues across 52 regions and 9 provinces, that it is financially responsible for. In addition, critical SAFA supporting elements to the development of the game includes Referee, Coaching and Administrative structures.

It is therefore very easy to see that the effects of the proposed ICASA regulations will have a devastating effect on the development and growth of football in this country, if SAFA is prohibited from securing the appropriate market related financial value associated with broadcast rights, from prospective broadcasting partners.

One only has to listen to the Chairperson of the National Soccer League to appreciate the effects it will have on their segment of the game, and when you consider the impact he speaks of and the effects it will have on participants of around 2000 (players), all generally living well above the bread line.

So, if the impact on the National Soccer League will be so great, just imagine the effects on SAFA, whose 3 000 000 plus members by and large are either living just on the breadline or generally below the breadline.

“It is clear that ICASA have not considered the effects/impacts of this on sporting federations, let alone the broadcaster (and in this case as they wish to dictate the free to air broadcaster). Neither does it seem they have considered the practically of what they propose, or for that matter the actual role players.

“Let’s just consider the current landscape of free to air broadcasters in South Africa. There is the SABC and eTV (who in this case does not even have a sports footprint, so one is limited to the SABC by and large).
“It is clear that if the SABC was mandated to ensure the live broadcast of the events that ICASA wishes them to broadcast, they would not have sufficient airtime/TV hours to do all of this as and when they occur (despite having 3 channels), as you can only imagine as happens in our country many times over, that Rugby, Cricket and Football National teams can play at the same time on the same day.

“Where will the SABC get the necessary infrastructure (camera’s, OB units, vehicles etc) and Human Resources (cameramen/women etc) to produce – just the aforementioned events- live). And if they do acquire these, it would increase their operational expenses more than 3 fold.

“It would therefore appear that the free to air broadcaster would have to approach the sporting federations to play matches at times which they are not accustomed to, and this then has a further knock on effect.

“Fans wanting to attend these events live would be inconvenienced and as such not be able to attend, thus further affecting commercial revenue for the federations as well as atmosphere at events.”

The effects on not wanting to allow sporting federations to negotiate contracts that offer exclusivity to a broadcaster is also absurd, in that the very essence of deriving greater revenue for the rights holder is exactly this offer of exclusivity.

Ironically, perhaps the greatest unintended consequence of the Regulations, is that it will once and for all remove any possibility for the entry of a new Subscription broadcast competitor to the local market – which as we understand it, was one of the main objectives of the Regulations.

Without the possibility of ever securing exclusive broadcast rights (Pay TV & FTA) for the most sought after sports content in the country, the likelihood of growing a subscriber base is severely limited, particularly now when faced with the added competition from the wrath of unregulated global OTT players, such as Netflix, with budgets that dwarf even the largest of players currently in our market.

It is quite significant through all these debates on the proposed ICASA regulations, that the SABC itself has been quite silent on this matter and not expressed a view, much the same for the other free to air broadcaster eTV, but eTV is probably understandable given their non-existent sports footprint and moreover because they do not have channel/airtime capacity as matters stand.

The SABC have been quite vociferous in their commentary about sports broadcasts, claiming that it costs them millions of rands in displacements costs.
So if they would have to broadcast more sport live, where will they find the airtime/TV hours to broadcast their soapies?

Which again if they are not able to do, will be part of this vicious circle where they lose more money in advertising revenue if they cannot show soapies.

It’s also interesting to note that ICASA lists the IAAF in their proposed regulations, so given that the IAAF is not a federation in South Africa, nor is it an event, how do they plan to regulate them, and exactly what will they be regulating?

The fact that ICASA, in the case of Football, have listed CAF and FIFA matches down, without clarity of which matches these are, also shows ignorance to the sport.

SAFA has over the years been very diligent on compliance with what ICASA had regulated before, ensuring that the masses of our country were able to have access to all of the National Teams and Tournaments. We remain committed to the objective to ensure that the masses will always have access to their national teams as well, but we alone cannot be doing so at the expense of our members, the development of the game and or its growth.

It is well documented that for more than 1 year, SAFA have been in stalled negotiations with the SABC, who refuse to place any market related value on even our senior Men’s and Women’s National Football Teams.

Despite the accolades and awards bestowed on Banyana Banyana, the recent home hosted friendlies against Norway and Sweden were once again not broadcast by the SABC- this despite the offer to do so for free, inclusive of production.

What is somewhat disappointing, is that ICASA engaged on roadshow, speaking to a number of stakeholders around their planned proposal – SAFA being one of them – and whilst they came to hear what we had to say, it is clear that they heard or listened to nothing we told them.

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