SABC Sport on broadcasting of boxing and other national interest sports

Sports, Arts and Culture

21 February 2011
Chairperson: Mr BM Komphela (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The South African Broadcasting Corporation had an obligation to provide coverage of sports of national interest. Certain events were to be covered in specified codes. They had to do this in the face of competition from subscription based stations. The cost of broadcasting rights was escalating and the international trend was for-pay television channels to take more and more of the available sport on offer. In South Africa, all rugby rights went to MultiChoice which allowed the SABC to broadcast Vodacom cup games and delayed coverage of major games. In the case of soccer and rugby, the federations allowed the SABC a portion of the broadcast rights.

The SABC had invested a lot in developing boxing. There were financial constraints that restricted the number of events that could be covered. After the loss of a major sponsorship, the Corporation had continued to broadcast boxing at a loss.

Members were concerned at the late screening time for boxing. They were told that earlier broadcasts would not fit into the station's ethos. Viewership figures were declining due to a decline in the quality of the fights being broadcast. It was agreed that viewers would prefer to see good heavyweight boxers.

Members were assured that the SABC was looking to improve its coverage in rural areas. Regional radio would also be used to boost community sport. The introduction of digital terrestrial television would enable the creation of a dedicated sports channel. Research showed much higher viewership for the South African Broadcasting Corporation than SuperSport.

Meeting report

Mr D Lee (DA) voiced his concern over the events surrounding the cancelled  second stage of the Tour of South Africa cycle race. This had happened in Johannesburg.

Mr M Dikgacwi (ANC) said that the Department of Sport and Recreation (SRSA) should be called to the Committee. There had been an incident in Port Elizabeth that had resulted in the death of a child.

Mr J van der Linde (DA) said that several children had been injured in a stampede at an athletics meeting in Stellenbosch after a spectator threw a tear gas canister into the crowd.

The Chairperson said that it seemed that federations were ignorant of the Safety at Sports and Recreation Events Act. Organisers of events had to apply to the South African Police Service (SAPS) to stage these events. Municipalities could not sanction events before such an application had been made. The provisions of the Act were there to ensure that all safety regulations were observed.

The Chairperson appreciated the work being done by the SABC. They came when called by the Committee and provided the desired information. The 2010 World Cup had been a spectacular show although Members had endured sleepless nights before the kick-off. He found it sad that South African media were still feeding the world with misleading information. Tourists were warned to expect assegai-wielding assailants at the airport and lions roaming the streets.

The Chairperson said that football legend Pele was now openly voicing concerns about the levels of crime in Brazil, host for the 2014 World Cup. Pele feared that Brazil might not meet the deadlines set by FIFA.

Mr Komphela said that football in South Africa was like the taxi industry. It had been started by black people who loved the game. He wanted to see the SABC guarding against private deals denying the people the chance to watch the game. Citizens were at the mercy of market forces. He asked why boxing was televised so late at night. Discussion on the question of boxing coverage had collapsed after the departure of the former Chief Executive Officer (CEO). There were some federations that were run by families and yet received vast amounts of lottery funding. He was glad that such codes did not received television coverage even if it meant that some of these minor sports would be killed off.

Dr Ben Ngubane, Chairperson: SABC, was keenly aware of the nation building role of sport. Unlike other public broadcasters, the SABC relied on advertising for 80% of its revenue. This was directly related to the number of viewers. Content drove advertising sales. Netball and boxing did not get much sponsorship. This discouraged their promotion as content for television. They could be covered on radio, but it was difficult to justify the broadcast of these sports ahead of more popular codes. The SABC realised that when a local team played in their village, the population would be very proud if their team beat another. Broadcasting such events built community spirit. It would be good if the Committee could lobby for more financial support.

The Chairperson said that one of the Polokwane resolutions was that SABC should not rely on advertising revenue. Government should be covering 80 to 90% of the SABC's operating costs. He was happy that Mr Ngubane had raised the issue at this meeting. The matter should be pursued with the Economic Cluster. The process might be slow but he wished to alleviate the SABC's fears on this issue.

Mr Robin Nicholson, Acting General CEO, SABC, presented the vision of the SABC. This was to be a world leader. A core issue was access to broadcasting time. They did not yet have a solution to the question of the cost of broadcast rights, production costs and the costs of internal facilities and outside broadcasting equipment. Production and internal costs were generally containable. The big cost driver was broadcast rights. The global trend was for an increasing number of broadcasters which drove up the cost of rights. Most rivals were subscription based. Before 1990, 21% of rights were held by pay TV channels. It was discovered that sport and news drove subscription. By 2010 63% of events had gone to pay TV stations, particularly at an elite level.

Mr Nicholson said that sport was scarce. No new codes were being developed. There was an opportunity for SABC to look at developmental sports such as netball which had big support but not much sponsorship. The SABC was obliged to cover certain sports of national interest. There was a “must cover, must pay” clause in the regulations. To do this it had to acquire the rights in a free market environment. Broadcasters such as Top TV benefited from this as they carried SABC programming but did not contribute towards broadcast rights. There was some negotiation on this matter. Sometimes broadcast rights were simply not available. No free-to-air package was offered on rugby matches. The case of football was different where there was sharing between pay TV and free-to-air stations. The first question was the availability of rights to the free-to-air stations. It was a closed shop for SuperSport and Top TV, although the latter could not match the spending power of SuperSport.

Mr Nicholson said that another factor was the restriction on broadcasting time. The proper funding of digital television would help this. While boxing was allocated to SABC 2, the programming had to fit in with the values of the station. The SABC had invested heavily in football and some other sports while the pay TV stations were now reaping the benefit.

Mr Nicholson said that there had been a decline in spending. There had been a massive increase in 2010 due to the World Cup. Revenue was increasing but there was still a long way to go. The SABC needed to market itself better. In 2009 SABC lost R599 million during the 2008/09 financial year (FY) and R546 million in 2009/10. Much of this had been on sport. It was projected that the broadcast rights would continue to increase, and would exceed the rate of growth of sponsorship and advertising revenues. Free-to-air broadcasters would be squeezed more in the future. At the same time, major sponsors such as Standard Bank, ABSA and others were withdrawing or reviewing their sport sponsorship strategies.

Mr Nicholson said that SABC was delivering to the public. There was an audience of over six million when a rugby test was broadcast, but advertisers did not appreciate this.

Mr Sizwe Nzimande, Acting Head of Sport, SABC, understood the Committee's concerns over boxing coverage. Magazine shows were cheaper to produce and helped to subsidize the cost of live broadcasts. It was the policy of the SABC to be neutral in its choice of promoters. Opportunities were being afforded to female boxing. The SABC staged 26 live tournaments a year. They tended to follow the best fighters as this is what the viewers wanted to see. The magazine shows would concentrate more on the development aspects. A problem was that the majority of the top boxers were migrating towards certain promoters. International bouts were viewed separately. There was no set calendar so SABC had to assess each fight as it was scheduled. The cost of an international fight was at least five times that of a local production.

Mr Nzimande said that there were 32 magazine programmes a year. They tried to show fights live or slightly delayed. Promoters had to be compliant with Boxing South Africa (BSA) regulations.

Mr Nzimande said that the SABC had lost R65 million on boxing coverage in the last three FYs. Much of this had been due to a loss of sponsorship from Vodacom as things had gone well until Vodacom had not renewed a three-year contract. This left the SABC having to cover the full cost of production. This was still the case six years later, despite some minor sponsorships.

Mr Nzimande said that the quality of the fights was not as good as in the past. There was national interest in the past, but the retirement of boxers such as Baby Jake Matlala had led to a loss of public interest. Another problem was the lack of good heavyweight boxers as this division was the prime focus of boxing fans.

Mr Nzimande said that some sponsors saw boxing as a blood sport and did not want to get involved. It was also considered unsuitable to show boxing during prime time due to the violent nature of the sport. Another key challenge was with the Baby Champs programme that developed new boxers. Once these fighters reached a certain point they were taken up by big promoters. The SABC had paid a lot towards the development of these fighters but received no return on their investment. He cited the case of one boxer who had come through the Baby Champs programme but had then committed himself to MultiChoice.

Mr Nzimande reserved 10% of live coverage for female bouts. This was not enough to sustain the female promoters. The SABC wished to develop these promoters but there were not enough tournaments covered to sustain this development. He estimated that it would cost more than R12 million to maintain the programme they wished to have. He believed that quality would be more important than quantity. Coverage would be better if there was better quality of fights rather than an increased number. The disastrous comeback attempt by Dingaan Thobela illustrated the point.

Mr Nzimande said that at least 40% of the current crop of flyweight fighters had come through the Baby Champs programme. The SABC was working with Boxing SA on developing boxers in the heavier weight divisions.

Mr Nzimande said that the SABC was working with Sports Recreation South Africa (SRSA) to develop the sport at schools level and through the Baby Champs programme. Many promoters had boxing at heart but did not have the skills to develop the sport. The SABC believed in an annual sports indaba. This would provide the opportunity for engagement outside the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) framework and would encourage the development of promoters and officials.

Mr Nzimande said that there was not enough time on SABC platforms to promote developmental sport. There was not enough time available to cover indigenous sport. Funding was a big problem. The primary funding was the lottery or SRSA. There was a development requirement in many federations. The less commercially viable a federation was, the less money was available for development.

Mr Nzimande said that a lot of sport was covered on radio in all eleven official languages. This helped to cover sport in rural areas. SABC was looking to increase the time for Siyadlala, which focused on rural and developmental sport. They were looking at improving the scripting to include rural and developmental coverage. The SABC was looking at how it could be part of the Mass Participation Programme.

Mr Nzimande said that the SABC needed guidance on the definition of the sports of national interest. SABC was obliged to cover certain events but was expected to pay for the full production. SABC paid for coverage of Bafana Bafana matches, but MultiChoice carried the SABC picture without paying towards it. The same applied to Top TV. This meant that the “poor cousin” had to pay for the rights alone.

The Chairperson was perturbed by the situation being sketched. All broadcasters covering an event should have a share in the payment of rights.

Mr Nzimande said that there was not enough rugby on SABC. There was coverage on radio. SABC covered inbound tours, Tests and the Currie Cup finals, and were allowed to show highlights. These arrangements were governed by agreements with MultiChoice. SABC would like to get some rugby for the free-to-air broadcasters even if they would then have to compete with eTV. Cricket had left a portion of the coverage for the SABC as had football. All the rights for rugby had gone to MultiChoice. SABC was currently in discussion with MultiChoice but he did not anticipate a change in the situation.

The Chairperson said that the Committee had met with MultiChoice. There had been some agreement but the situation had not been resolved.

Mr Nzimande said that the primary objective of MultiChoice was to protect its business interest. Rugby was a primary focus.

The Chairperson said that the lack of coverage on the national broadcaster was creating a stigma. Poor relations between government and rugby were now improving, but the lack of general coverage created the impression that rugby was a sport for the rich only.

Mr Ngubane said that there were many matters to discuss. Parliament had a critical role to play in democratising sport.

Mr Dikgacwi was happy to have heard the presentation. He was one of those who hammered the SABC. A meeting was needed with the Committee's Communications counterparts on funding. If government would not assist then the poorer people could forget about coverage of top events. Month-old boxing bouts did not help. Issues of coverage and sponsorship had to be raised with the Minister. People used to sit up until the early hours of the morning to watch top fights. White boxers were also a concern.

Mr Nicholson said that advertising revenue could not cover boxing coverage.

Mr G MacKenzie (COPE) was concerned about rugby coverage. He had been told that SABC had been given the right to coverage of more than just the selected games mentioned in the presentation. His information was that the South African Rugby Union (SARU) was very concerned about spreading the game to a much wider audience. He asked what percentage of SABC airtime was devoted to sport compared to other genres. Not enough had been said about school sport. There was massive crowd appeal and development potential. The claim had been made that advertisers would lose interest in poor quality events. He felt that the SABC should rather then be bidding for better quality events to attract viewers.

Mr Nzimande was in discussions regarding coverage of school rugby. They were working on getting more coverage. They were looking at other codes as well. Finance was a challenge.

Mr Nicholson said that the SABC did have some rugby rights. These were for delayed coverage mainly of Vodacom Cup games. SuperSport still controlled the rights totally. The SABC was working with SARU. A free-to-air package would be cheaper than buying rights from SuperSport.

Mr Lee asked if the SABC could not afford its own sports channel. He had watched all the boxing championship fights of the past on one of the satellite channels. He did not think that the sport itself was the problem. He agreed that the heavyweights were the draw-card. He asked what the percentage of the SABC's operating costs were spent on sport. He also asked about rugby. This was a game for all people. He was disappointed that SABC was being left behind. The Committee should discuss this matter with SARU and the SABC.

Mr Nicholson said that there would be a sports channel when the SABC's digital terrestrial television (DTT) programme was launched. Spending on sport coverage was about 15% of its total expenditure, increasing when there were major events.

Mr J McGluwa (ID) had visited the SABC. It was an impressive tour and the whole delegation commended the SABC operations. Broadcasting was being brought closer to the people. However, the presentation lacked evidence on the role SABC was playing in bringing sport to the people. There were some places in Limpopo with no SABC coverage. South Africans were soccer fanatics, particularly in the rural areas. He wanted to hear what role SABC would play in bringing broadcasting to the poorest of the poor.

Mr M Hlaudi, Head Stakeholder Management, SABC, said that there was wide radio coverage. SABC needed to visit schools and talk to top players. Increasing use would be made of regional stations. There was already a review of programming. More improvement was needed.

Mr Ngubane said that the SABC was engaged in a programme in conjunction with the Department of Communications (DoC) to increase the transmission network.

Mr Nicholson said that there was a commitment to install up to 300 new transmitters to increase the SABC's coverage.

Mr L Suka (ANC) also appreciated the presentation. South Africa was a third world developing country that competed with first world countries. The majority of South Africans were very poor. There was a question of legislation. Government should set the tone unambiguously. Appropriate interventions were needed. South Africans were not getting what they deserved. The SABC must move speedily to achieve their goals. He agreed that a meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Communications was required. Research showed that most DSTV subscribers were Indians. The balance must be tilted in favour of the poor. He asked if there was any research on what people wanted to see. The SABC was concentrating on a few selected sports only. Indigenous games covered a number of games. Government support had given exposure to artists. He agreed that financial support was needed. Sport was a catalyst in generating tourism income. Regular progress reports were needed.

Mr Nzimande said that different research methods had to be used. Figures available to the SABC showed that about 700 000 people had watched the final of the Rugby World Cup in 2007 on SuperSport while 4.2 million had watched the game on SABC. Generally the SABC audiences were five to six times bigger than those of SuperSport. SABC had to buy the rights from MultiChoice while in other codes a small portion of the rights was reserved for the SABC. MultiChoice had given the SABC the rights to show Vodacom Cup games, but the viewers wanted to see the stars in action. They would regard this as in insult. The compromise offered was delayed coverage of major games. The SABC could only advertise the rugby matches it was going to show not more than 72 hours before the time in terms of the agreement with MultiChoice. This had an impact on the ability of the SABC to sell advertising. The SABC could only cover incoming tours but not external tours. It could also cover the semi-finals and final of Super rugby, if played in South Africa and the Currie Cup.

The Chairperson said that the Committee was not Cabinet. Even so, the Committee represented fifty million South Africans. Traditional research methods often produced results far removed from reality. Sport was not given its proper place regarding its input to the gross domestic product (GDP). The increase in economic momentum was far less than the investment. A match between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates in KwaZulu-Natal, for example, would take up all available hotel space. In Europe, sport and related industries provided sustainable work for many.

The Chairperson asked what value there was in watching European football in an African setting. He could not watch African football in Europe. He asked what informed this. There was massive support for teams like Manchester United in the Western Cape and little interest in African football. It seemed that SABC was falling into this way of thinking. The tendency of top local players to move to Europe was eroding the game. The situation was getting bleaker while some people were getting richer.

The Chairperson raised the question of boxing promoters. Promoters were saying that the SABC had said that they would not televise boxing. He asked if there had been a meeting between SABC and boxing. He asked if there was a different schedule of payment for promoters based on the quality of the fight. The promoters were the employers. The opposite should be the case where a boxer would pay a promoter to organise a fight. Instead, boxers were paid a trivial amount. He asked why there were delays in coverage, whether technical or if there was an issue surrounding programming. On the question of bloodsports, he said that wrestling was worse than boxing. Wrestling was becoming increasingly popular. There was a notion in some quarters that the Baby Champs programme was a waste of money. He asked how much SRSA was investing in the programme. The programme was developing the sport while others saw it as a waste of money. He asked if it was SRSA or SABC that considered it a waste of money. The allocation to BSA was negligible.

Prof Singh, Chief Director: Client Services and Support, SRSA, said that the Department did not specifically finance the Baby Champs programme. It was BSA that had reported that the programme was discontinued. It was not working out.

The Chairperson said that the statement had been made, but it would be un-parliamentary to reveal the person's name in his absence.

Mr Lee lamented the tendency to forget the great boxers of the past. Boxers died in poverty.

The Chairperson said that it was a South African tendency to forget the legacy of past stars. The SABC was doing well on the question of female promoters and boxers. The SABC had played a major role in unearthing talent. The Leila Ali fight had been a disgrace. There was a certain promoter who seemed to be getting every chance to have his boxers exposed.

The Chairperson asked if SABC had engaged MultiChoice on the question of national interest. The key role of the national broadcaster should be to entertain, educate and inform and not to make money. These should be the key values. It would be wrong if these priorities changed. There would be interaction with the Communications Committee. The Committee would invite MultiChoice and SRSA to discuss the issues. Rugby coverage would be a major point on the agenda. The Committee was dedicated to removing the perception that rugby was only a sport for white people. The Committee had engaged with MultiChoice while Dali Mpofu was the SABC CEO. Ultimately the SABC had lost the deal on the Premier Soccer League (PSL). There had been constructive engagement. There had been time pressure.

Mr Ngubane said that it was not his view that boxing was a bloodsport. A lot of good things would be happening with the advent of DTT, with an increased number of channels for sport and African affairs.

The Chairperson said that SABC was doing a great job. The move to the International Convention Centre had been a good one. Good perceptions had been created.

The meeting was adjourned.


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