SARU's Roux aghast at ICASA's proposals for non-exclusive broadcast rights
Cricket - 15 Jan 2021
The exclusive sale of broadcast rights is vital to the business of the South Africa Rugby Union, chief executive Jurie Roux has insisted, adding he is “yet to see an example in the world” where non-exclusivity works financially.
Roux’s comments come amid a series of public hearings this week involving ICASA, South Africa’s broadcast and telecoms regulator, and several of the country’s sporting federations and governing bodies, including SARU and the top-tier Premier Soccer League.
In the latest version, published in November last year, of its long anticipated ‘Draft Sports Broadcasting Service Amendment Regulations’, (a document which it has been working on since 2018), ICASA called for regulations to be introduced across sport that would reduce monopolisation by pay-television's SuperSport, and increase the number of sporting events shown on free-to-air TV.
Both SARU and the PSL have lucrative long-term exclusive domestic deals with SuperSport, the dominant pay-TV broadcaster in sub-Saharan Africa which is owned by Multichoice. The broadcaster has rights to much of the international soccer, rugby and cricket shown in South Africa, with ailing public-service network SABC struggling to compete.
The regulations, in the latest draft, if implemented, would entail several SARU properties being made free to view domestically, including games from the southern hemisphere's premier Super Rugby competition, and games from the country’s Currie Cup.
Roux said: “I’ve yet to see an example where non-exclusivity [would] render the necessary remedies to sustain, not only SA Rugby, but its affiliates. Until we have those examples and elements to implement that, we can’t move from that [position]. It would be to our own detriment.”
He added that in order for the union to deliver on its transformation plans - helping make rugby union a sport more reflective of the country’s ethnic make-up - it would need “the most money that we can get out of our broadcasting revenue… It’s our job to sell our broadcasting rights.”
Roux said: “We’re not opposed to regulations. We understand the position of regulation in society… All we ask for is that the regulations aren’t done in a way that stops the sport we love.”
SARU, which falls under the administration of the government’s department of sports, arts and recreation, has also questioned the extent of ICASA’s remit.
Responding to ICASA’s draft regulations, which also included limiting contract lengths to three years, and unbundling rights, the governing body said: “ICASA does not have the power to regulate the affairs of sporting bodies… The body is only authorised to regulate licensees.
“Even if ICASA considers the proposed remedies to be desirable, it does not have the power to regulate the conduct of sports federations as they are not licensees. The Electronic Communications Act’s scope does not permit ICASA to limit the rights of sports federations.”
In 2019, commenting on what would happen if an earlier version of ICASA’s draft regulations was implemented, Roux said: “Our doors will close in the next five years… Exclusivity is key in sport and the current regulations strike a good balance.”
The PSL, meanwhile, said during the same hearing that if ICASA takes exclusivity away, “it becomes a free for all, and it becomes a scorched earth matter. Our asset stands or falls with exclusivity.”
It added: “ICASA has failed to demonstrate that its proposed remedies are addressing ineffective competition in a defined market.”
Elsewhere, the Japanese Rugby Football Union has said a new three-tier professional league will launch in the country next January, with 25 teams spread across the three divisions.
Promotion and relegation will feature, and there will be a Championship Final between the winners of the top division’s two separate conferences.
The January 2022 start is in order for the league to align with Super Rugby's schedule.
The shake-up has been on the cards ever since the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which was held in Japan and which saw the hosts catch the country’s imagination by reaching the quarter-finals for the first time.
Kensuke Iwabuchi, JRFU’s chairman, said: “We want to set the stage for Japan to compete at a world-class level.
“We haven’t been able to confirm matches yet - the international calendar and league calendar are uncertain because of Covid-19.”
The current domestic structure features a 16-team Top League.
Japan did feature one team in the Super Rugby competition, the Sunwolves, but that side will not be involved from next season onwards, after a structural realignment in early 2019.