One Small Voice: More people need to say No Deal

2009-02-06 00:00

IN three discrete corners of three chic bars at three well-known Johannesburg hotels, three intense conversations are taking place in hushed tones, with a nudge, a nod, a wink and a grin. Deal?

The lighting is set low, the lager is imported and, where once the local lads ruled the roost, the accents have become unmistakably international. There are Englishmen in stripy blue shirts and chinos, Germans in dark purple blazers, Italians in brown leather shoes that match their briefcases, Russians in shiny suits and dirty shoes, Japanese waiting for the boss to speak, Americans not waiting for anybody.

In the first hotel bar, there sits a well-groomed television executive and a rights holder, refreshed after his overnight flight from Europe. The previous three-year broadcast rights deal for the major sporting event expires in six months, and a renewal is up for discussion.

“So the audience figures are looking good,” ventures the visitor.

“Sure, but I need some help with the fee. The rand is taking one helluva hit, and most of our rights deals are in dollars. Can we look at freezing the price for three years?”

“That’s going to be difficult.”

Both men play the silence card, saying nothing, waiting for the other to yield just an inch, but neither speaks. The visitor smiles and raises his eyebrows, as if asking an unspoken question.

The local man replies with a smile of his own.

Emboldened, the visitor says: “Look, it’s tough out there and we understand the realities. Maybe we could agree on a simple 20% increase on the last contract, but we could put, say, 10% back into a good cause here … something that makes sense for you … personally. Deal?”

The local television man nods, weakly, but unmistakably; he likes the look of the new Audi Q7.

In another hotel bar, another discussion unfolds. The CEO of a major club sits with an agent, the representative of household names. Both know the club wants the player and the player wants the move, but, at one minute to midnight, there is a deal to be done.

“We’re not a million miles away,” says the agent cheerily. “There is no problem with the salary and the bonuses, flights and relocation costs look fine. He’s ready.”

“That’s great,” replies the CEO, “but listen we appreciate your help in all this, and I think some kind of agent’s fee would be right and proper. Could we say five percent of the salary?”

“Okay, I hear you. Erm … what about 15% with five percent back to you? Deal?”

The CEO nods, weakly, but unmistakably; the skiing trip to Austria is back on.

In a third hotel bar, a third conversation nears its conclusion. The marketing director of an international company squints at the bill, converts the rands into euros and enjoys the value. He needs to appoint an events management company to activate his sponsorship on the ground, and he has found his man.

“So we have your proposal, and everything looks okay. You’re putting a 20% management fee on all costs, which seems reasonable. Zis is normal, yes?”

“Absolutely,” the local company’s MD responds. “Of course, there are a few ways of setting the budgets and calculating costs. In fact, speaking from experience, we have often finished up with a surplus, as much as 10 to 12% extra on the side and, if you are happy with that, we would be happy to invest that back. Deal?”

“Okay, that would be helpful … in rand or euros?”

“Either is fine. We’ve got contacts at the bank.”

“Euros are always welcome,” says the visitor, again converting the rand into his home currency and concluding, all said and done, that a bit on the side is better than a slap in the face.”

The enduring pity of sport at the highest level is that, beyond the applause, beyond the glory, beyond the headlines, beyond the uplifting stories of courage and skill, so many millions are finding their way out of the games and into the pockets of corrupt individuals cynically determined to enrich themselves.

What can be done? More people simply need to say: “No deal”. Is this likely? Is that a fat, pink pig flying past the window?

•Edward Griffiths is a journalist, author, former CEO of SA Rugby, general manager of SABC sport and involved in various SA bid campaigns.

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