Are sports broadcasting rights becoming too expensive?

By Prof Dr Steve Cornelius, International Sports and Entertainment Law Centre, Pretoria University, South Africa

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) recently announced that it would not be broadcasting the South African national cricket team’s tour of New Zealand. The public broadcaster cited the inhibitive costs of securing broadcasting rights as the reason why it was unable to secure the broadcasting rights. As a result, South African cricket fans would only be able to watch the tour of New Zealand on the pay-channel Supersport.

This is not the first time that the SABC has complained about the costs of sports broadcasting rights. With the exception of South African football, the SABC has over the past five or six years consistently cited rising costs as the reason why it could not secure broadcasting rights for rugby union, golf and motor racing. It has also been cited as the reason why certain sports, such as swimming and athletics, are hardly ever broadcast live on the SABC.

On the face of it, the inability of the SABC to secure broadcasting rights certainly begs the question whether the costs of these broadcasting rights have not become exorbitant. However, there may be another, much more fundamental problem which plagues the SABC.

For some years now, the SABC has been mired in corruption, irregular spending, questionable senior appointments, a dysfunctional board and maladministration. The SABC has lost hundreds of millions of Euros as a result. And it is this maladministration which is as much to blame for the inability to secure broadcasting rights, as any other factor.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa has imposed a duty on the SABC, as public broadcaster, to broadcast national interest sports events, either live or delayed.

However, one can question whether the complaints of high costs to secure broadcasting rights for these events are not aimed at deflecting the blame for the inability of the SABC to broadcast national interest sports events – an inability which may have more to do with financial mismanagement than with the inhibitive costs of these broadcasting rights.