Sponsors in panic mode as SABC and ASA fail to reach agreement

Comrades Marathon.
Comrades Marathon.

Comrades Marathon sponsors are in deep panic mode as the SABC and Athletics South Africa (ASA) fail to reach an agreement on a broadcast deal for one of the country’s most prestigious events.

The 2019 edition of the Comrades Marathon is just over a month away but there’s still a huge possibility that the public might not get to watch the race live on television for the first time in many years.

This year’s Up Run will take place on June 9 from Durban City Hall, finishing at Scottsville Racecourse in Pietermaritzburg.

The negotiations between the cash-strapped public broadcaster and ASA started last year and they are yet to yield positive results. The possible TV blackout has had sponsors relaying their worries to the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) about putting their money into an event that’s not going to be televised.

Companies that sponsor Comrades include Bonitas, Hollywoodbets, Caltex, Coca-Cola and Toyota.

Speaking to The Witness, CMA general manager Keletso Totlhanyo confirmed that she has had to respond to numerous questions from sponsors.

“At the moment we’ve got an issue; our sponsors are panicking. But we keep on giving them updates.

“They are really panicking but there’s nothing we can do. At least the route recce [which will be done in two weeks’ time] will confirm that we are serious about this,” said Totlhanyo.

On Thursday, Totlhanyo wrote a letter to one of the main sponsors, Bonitas, assuring them that their product will be advertised on SABC during the race. In the letter, she wrote: “As the custodian of the sport of athletics, Athletics South Africa, which includes track and road running, has the right to negotiate and conclude broadcast rights as it relates to the Comrades Marathon. The SABC and ASA had a three-year deal which has expired, and the negotiations started last year but somehow, they have not been able to reach their conclusion.

“The CMA will continue their operational plan and delivering the broadcast obligation. Our first obligation is the route recce which takes place on May 16 and 17, if not sooner.”

Totlhanyo said the fact that the public broadcaster has agreed to do a route recce is a sign that the race would be on TV. “We do that together with our sponsors because they also have paid towards the race, so they have to get the coverage. SABC has confirmed we are going to have a route recce.”

The SABC also failed to broadcast the Two Oceans Marathon last month.

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