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South Africa: SABC Seeks Soccer Rights Freeze

The SABC has taken legal action against the Premier Soccer League (PSL) and broadcasters SuperSport and e.tv to freeze a R1.6bn broadcast rights deal to prevent any party entering into agreements with SuperSport , which was last month awarded the rights by the PSL.

According to those involved in discussions between the PSL, SuperSport and the SABC , the SABC is now resorting to challenging the awarding of sublicensing rights to e.tv as it has apparently failed in its attempts to take back the full PSL package from SuperSport, for which the SABC has paid R350m over the past five years.

After lengthy talks in the past month, the national broadcaster declined what seemed like an attractive offer from SuperSport in which it would have been offered, exclusively, 120 of the 140 available free-to-air matches as well as having the first choice of weekend games. PSL CE Trevor Phillips described the offer as "extremely generous".

However, he said the indication from the SABC was that while it agreed to the deal, it would not accept this from SuperSport and would only deal with the PSL on the matter. Pending the outcome of an arbitration process which the SABC initiated even before the rights were awarded to SuperSport, the SABC said that with the urgent interdicts it would be enforcing what it believed were its "matching rights", which allowed it to match any deal awarded to another broadcaster.

According to Phillips, issues such as the number of games allocated to the SABC were ironed out and agreed to in principle and the fact that the SABC would only deal with PSL was outside of the PSL's control as it had already signed the licensing agreement with SuperSport.

He said that because the indications were that the SABC had found no problem with the package, the PSL asked the SABC to drop its arbitration case against the PSL. "Now they want the court to award them an interdict to use these matching rights. But in our view and in our lawyers' view it is too late."

The SABC negotiating committee was sent questions regarding the matter, but Business Day was told that it would not be able to respond by the end of the day.

"If the interdict were successful it would mean e.tv, for example, could not enter into any legal agreements with the PSL and SuperSport," said Dan Rosengarten, e.tv's legal representative.

The date for the hearing is set for July 31, which Rosengarten said would be a dirty tactic should the appeal be won, as it would then affect the screening of the Telkom Charity Cup, the rights for which are currently held by e.tv.

Bell Dewar & Hall partner Eric van den Berg said yesterday: "If the interdict was granted and e.tv screened the match, they would be in contempt of court and would be liable for lock-up or a fine, or both." He said that the channel would also be liable for damages, which would probably be in the form of turnover lost by the SABC for not airing the match .

(Business Day (Johannesburg), 19 July 2007)

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