South Africa: SABC in Soccer Rights Climbdown

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The battle over local soccer broadcast rights -- which was characterised by angry threats from SABC CEO Dali Mpofu -- was settled last week as the public broadcaster backed down and agreed to buy 143 games a season from rivals SuperSport, as was initially offered. But last week, the SABC's statement was a whimper compared with the fire and brimstone utterances which have characterised Mpofu's broadsides.

"The SABC shall retain the right to pursue the pending arbitration hearings, but has filed a notice of withdrawal of the urgent interdict which was supposed to be heard on July 31," said the statement.

A joint statement issued yesterday with the Premier Soccer League (PSL) stated that the parties were "delighted that it has become possible to provide football to the majority of South African citizens".

The new deal gives the SABC exclusive rights to 110 matches of 143 games a season, with the remaining 33 to be shared between the two broadcasters. According to the SABC, the matches included major derbies, knock-out competitions, semifinals and finals . PSL chairman Irvin Khoza said the league had ensured that more than double the number of matches that were previously broadcast would now be shown on television.

The SABC only broadcast 60 games last season, despite the fact that it had sole rights to all PSL games. It was unclear how much the public broadcaster would pay its rival. When SuperSport bought the rights to the PSL's 480 games a season for R1bn over five years last month, almost tripling the R350m (US$49.6 million) the SABC had been paying for years, Mpofu challenged the deal, demanding to negotiate control over the games with the PSL, without having to buy a sub-license from SuperSport.

(Business Day (Johannesburg), 27 July 2007)