Supersport CEO breaks down the importance of the PSL to DSTV
Born in Springs, Gideon Khobane matriculated at Queen College, where he spent time doing athletics and playing rugby. He played diski for a while but proved rather inept as a striker. His talents, however, lie in the boardroom where crucial decisions are made, which determine the future of sporting entertainment. “[Being SuperSport TV CEO] is an incredible experience and an unbelievable journey. Sometimes I don’t believe it myself … and then I get to the office and see all the work I have to do,” says Khobane, who gave up being M-Net Director to succeed Imtiaz Patel as CEO. “Everyday we look forward to the next production; what’s coming up in the future and how can we do marketing for it. We recently did plans about the promotion of the Floyd Mayweather [versus Connor McGregor] fight.” At just 40 years old, Khobane is one of the most influential people in the game. His chink in the armour, though, lies, unsuspectingly, in the teams he supports. He is old enough to remember some Dube Birds greats. And since Swallows’ demise, all he’s got left are those 1980’s childhood memories, which would make for useful dinner table chitchat across from Phanyaza Lesufi and his age mates.
“I grew up supporting Moroka
Swallows but I’m on the board of SuperSport United,” he says, shyly. “I’m happy because I am always neutral when Kaizer Chiefs play Orlando Pirates. “I love Swallows. One of my uncles was a Swallows supporter and during the 80’s he used to take us to watch their games. Swallows was big in the 80’s, as big as Chiefs and Pirates are today and they were always in the finals [of competitions]. “I used to watch them and think, ‘What a team!’ I used to see the likes of Thomas Hlongwane, [Joel] ‘Ace’ Mnini and Andries ‘Chaka-Chaka’ Mpondo. Those were the days man. It’s a crying shame what happened to them.” SuperSport prized, acrimoniously, the broadcast rights from public broadcaster, the SABC, 10 years ago. The effect on the game was profound. The PSL product grew immeasurably and DSTV earned more subscribers. The game, as we knew it, changed. “The jewel in our crown is the PSL,” says Khobane. “The viewership numbers for the PSL are unbelievable. On the rest of the continent, the English Premier League is number one by far, while the [Uefa] Champions League and La Liga help sell our product. “We are probably the biggest broadcaster of football in the world; if not, then we are in the top five. Africans see more EPL matches than anyone else in England. “I think we do underestimate how
“I USED TO WATCH [SWALLOWS] AND THINK, ‘WHAT A TEAM!’ … THE LIKES OF THOMAS HLONGWANE, [JOEL] ‘ACE’ MNINI AND ANDRIES ‘CHAKA-CHAKA’ MPONDO.”
popular the PSL is. We underestimate how much the PSL means to a lot of people in this country. Sometimes I’ll look at the viewership figures of a game that doesn’t involve Chiefs and Pirates, say, [Lamontville Golden] Arrows against [SuperSport] United, and the numbers would surprise me.”
The perception is that the price
of this broadcasting Nirvana is paid by dwindling stadium attendance figures – for games that don’t involve Kaizer Chiefs against Orlando Pirates. Khobane says the problem is far deeper than that. “Broadcast of matches does take something away,” he admits. “But compare the infrastructure that is in Germany, Spain or England for people to get to the game … here a guy from Soweto has to catch a taxi to town before he can catch one to Braamfontein to watch a Bidvest Wits game. “What is the fan’s experience like when they want to get to the game, compared to countries that have underground rail systems, like England? “How is a guy meant to attend night games when the transport is unreliable? “Also, in Europe people support their hometown teams. Here the majority are either Chiefs or Pirates or Mamelodi Sundowns. The fact is, if SuperSport United play Arrows at Lucas Moripe Stadium, and the game is not broadcast on TV, it doesn’t mean people are going to flood to the stadium. There is no culture of hometown support. You can’t apportion the blame for that to TV.”
“We want people to be attracted
to the experience at the stadium, not just to watch regular football. We saw during the Nedbank Cup final [between United and Pirates in Durban], where there was a music concert and everything, that people enjoyed the full experience. We are working with Absa to bring more innovations to improve the experience. We want to give people something that’s worth half their day,” Khobane says.