How the pub­lic broad­caster be­came its own worst en­emy

CityPress - - Sport - Sm­se­leku@city­press.co.za Fol­low me on Twit­ter @Sbu_Mse­leku

If you were to tell a young per­son that there was a time when we re­lied solely on the SABC to watch live foot­ball, rugby and cricket, they would be for­given for think­ing that you were telling them in­suman­sumane (fairy­tales in isiZulu) or intsomi (the isiXhosa word).

In fact, when English soc­cer ti­tans Liver­pool and Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur came to neigh­bour­ing Eswa­tini (for­merly Swazi­land) to con­test the Royal Swazi Sun Soc­cer Chal­lenge in two legs in 1984, those South Africans who could not travel and be part of the ca­pac­ity crowd of 8 000 at Somhlolo Na­tional Sta­dium fol­lowed the match on SABC TV.

Every time the World Cup fi­nals or the FA Cup Fi­nal came around, you knew that you would fol­low all the go­ings-on live on the SABC plat­form.

How the once-mighty pub­lic broad­caster has fallen!

You might be won­der­ing why my mind is cas­cad­ing down mem­ory lane at such break-neck speed. Let me re­lieve you.

The broad­caster has be­come a poor shell of its for­mer self. In fact, the SABC has be­come a joke when it comes to sports broad­cast­ing.

My mind was jolted into ac­tion this week when I saw its English Premier League (EPL) pro­mo­tion.

The whole week, the SABC was shout­ing across the rooftops about its “match of the week” that was to be beamed live yes­ter­day.

Said match was the gi­gan­tic en­counter be­tween Newcastle and Bournemouth at St James’ Park.

This, on a week­end that fea­tures to­day’s Manch­ester derby be­tween Manch­ester City and Manch­ester United at Eti­had Sta­dium – with yes­ter­day’s six fix­tures hav­ing in­cluded an en­counter be­tween Crys­tal Palace and Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur (that name again).

It sent me back to the wa­ter­shed events in 2006, when the SABC lost its Premier Soc­cer League (PSL) broad­cast rights to Su­perS­port.

The SABC failed – no, it re­fused to make the PSL a rea­son­able of­fer to ex­tend the con­tract af­ter be­ing given the first op­tion.

It was then that Su­perS­port snatched the rights from un­der the broad­caster’s nose. And the SABC had to go cap in hand to beg the pay chan­nel for a sub­con­tract.

While no de­tails of the deal have been re­vealed, those in the know told us that the SABC ended up buy­ing the rights for much more than it would have ini­tially given the PSL. In other words, it could have been the other way around as Su­perS­port – which was dy­ing to broad­cast lo­cal foot­ball matches live then – would have been pre­pared to pay an arm and a leg to the SABC for a sub­con­tract.

The new set-up meant Su­perS­port had the first turn in pick­ing which matches to broad­cast live – and, like the bib­li­cal Lazarus, the SABC had to make do with the crumbs fall­ing off the rich man’s ta­ble.

What made the SABC the butt of many wise­cracks within the sport­ing fra­ter­nity was the fact that it con­tin­ued with the tagline The Home of Foot­ball.

This, at a time when Su­perS­port had not only the PSL rights, but also those of the big­gest Euro­pean leagues such as the EPL, Spanish Laliga, Ital­ian Serie A and the Ger­man Bun­desliga. Poor sods!

We are told that the SABC lost the rugby and cricket rights in al­most the same man­ner – de­spite SABC3, which used to broad­cast the two sports, hav­ing had a larger foot­print and draw­ing big­ger au­di­ences than the pay chan­nel.

The pub­lic broad­caster re­cently paid plenty of moolah to air some Africa Cup of Na­tions matches – rights that see it fail to beam live Bafana Bafana home matches, but able to show away matches.

What a cock­eyed busi­ness model. Talk of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

By the way, when Su­perS­port came about, some smart aleck at Dither­ing Heights de­cided to do away with the TopS­port logo and re­placed it with SABC Sport.

Ask any mar­keter worth their salt which of the two names is catchier. Your guess is as good as mine as to which one they would set­tle for. But no, not the SABC!

So, this is the back story that ex­plains why those who can only fol­low their foot­ball on SABC were stuck with the “match of the week” yes­ter­day, while Su­perS­port showed all six matches yes­ter­day and will to­day screen the Manch­ester derby.

SABC Sport is dead! Long live SABC Sport!

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