Icasa v SA Rugby and PSL: The regulations battle is now reaching the home stretch

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Marco van Staden in action for the Bulls against Western Province. (Gallo Images)
Marco van Staden in action for the Bulls against Western Province. (Gallo Images)
  • ICASA's battle with SA Rugby and Premier Soccer League over broadcasting rights is reaching the home stretch.
  • Sport must remain available on free-to-air TV, but at what cost?
  • Covid-19's impact on subscription rates could play a critical role.

With the end of March deadline for the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa's (Icasa) inquiry into subscription television broadcasting television services looming, two competing interests are at the heart of the argument:

The making of money off broadcasting rights paired with the need to keep the public interested in sports.

It has been a long fight and judging from SA Rugby and the Premier Soccer League's submissions on Thursday, it's one that'll go to the bitter end.

It remains true that sport on free-to-air TV is a necessity, but someone must pay for it to be there.

Soccer remains available on that platform, but it isn't the case for rugby.

The amount of money SuperSport has pumped into these two sports and cricket is insane. They have built the capacity to afford to broadcast and maintain these sports.

There is also the significant issue of the bulk of South Africans not being able to afford premium pay TV where cricket and rugby are found.

That's also where SuperSport pay the largest chunk of their broadcast money for exclusive rights.

Here's this word: exclusivity.

It was bandied about with proper abandon during Thursday's hearing and it comes at a high price.

How can it be balanced to suit the needs of a wider South African populace that won't be able to afford premium Pay TV?    

It is a tricky balancing act because fans are unable to watch sports at stadiums because of Covid-19 regulations.

There is also the issue of pockets getting thinner because of Covid-19 enforced salary cuts and job losses, which may impact Pay TV subscriptions.

This leaves one question: Is there room for Pay TV and free-to-air TV to find common ground? Surely they could.

However, money will be the issue, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby.

Soccer, despite the rejigging of midweek match times and the intransigence of free-to-air broadcasters when it comes to the issue of schedules, has always found a place on free-to-air TV.

While home cricket matches have remained, it's the away tours that have long disappeared, along with domestic rugby.

Rugby tests are delayed live, ostensibly to protect the premium viewer on pay TV.

Can common ground be found with regards to the spreading of sport? It must be.

One would point out the sub-standard nature of the Currie Cup this season and whether it would have been better suited to being shared on free-to-air TV.

There's also the truism of rugby widely available on free to air TV.

It is a sport, like most, that lives or dies on broadcast rights money.

However, there needs to be the counterbalancing of making money, while also growing the sport in the absence of live crowds.

There are games in which this can be done, like the odd domestic cricket game on a Sunday, along with the Currie Cup game the day before.

This must be paid for however and how free-to-air TV can generate this money for this venture is either the subject of future analysis or the final findings could provide the answer.

Exclusivity has a place in sports because it is a revenue driver that filters down to many levels.

Free-to-air TV also fulfils an important place in society but needs to be able to pay towards the viewing costs of keeping the populace fulfilled.

It's a simple, yet evergreen case of money talking and everything else walking.

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