The Power of Sport and Television for Africa

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Television has transformed the FIFA World Cup, Olympic Games, and European Football Champions League into lucrative multi-billion-dollar undertakings creating a frenzy of bidding for the TV rights for the events. TV Networks and sports marketing agents jostle to secure the rights to these and many other events.

Globally, sport is now estimated to be a US$800-billion (£510-billion/€594-billion) industry (www.insidethegames.org). The bulk of this revenue emanates from broadcasting rights.

Taking into account these phenomenal developments of our time, many countries, regions and continents are strategically positioning themselves to benefit from the sport industry by way of hosting mega events, with all the other accompanying perks, television rights included. Sport has become an important driver of tourism.

Sadly, Africa and more importantly for us, Southern Africa, has been too slow in waking up from its slumber as the significant growth markets in the industry are now found in Europe, Asia, North and South America.

When it comes to exploiting the power of television, the African situation has not been assisted by the fragmentation of the continent into the Anglophone, Francophone, Arabic and Lusophone formations. This has made the development of uniform or harmonised services for the continent very difficult. The existence of the African Union of Broadcasting (AUB), formerly the Union of Radio and Television Networks of Africa (URTNA), has not made much difference.

This is because the AUB is made up of mostly government representatives of broadcasting and television authorities on the continent whose operational motive is not commercialisation or liberalisation of the airwaves. The liberalisation of the airwaves is one of the critical hallmarks of freedom of expression and economic development.

Privately owned TV channels help to generate employment as well as wealth in any country and sport becomes a major beneficiary as broadcast rights are lucrative commodities where bidders are prepared to pay top dollar for them.

As long as the state governments continue to exercise tight control of the airwaves, it will be very difficult to exploit the power of television in the development of sport and emergence of professionalism

The advent of democracy in South Africa has seen the gradual rise of Supersport as a giant on the continent. Supersport is a South African group of television channels owned by Naspers Company listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) and broadcast on the DStv platform.

DStv, with its stranglehold on the broadcast of rights of major European soccer leagues, among other valuable properties, now has an unhealthy and iron-fisted monopoly of Pay TV not just in Southern Africa but in Anglophone Sub-Saharan Africa.

However, a competitor for DStv has emerged in the form of the Chinese company, Star Times, which now has an estimated 600 000 subscribers in East and West Africa.

There is also a plethora of service providers in the North Africa catering for mostly the Arabic-speaking populations as well as others in French-speaking Africa.

There is therefore no homogenous market for free-to-air or Pay TV service providers on the African continent. However, this should not be seen as an obstacle but a challenge for driving innovation and change for the African market supported by the AUB.

The AUB should be on the forefront of facilitating this much-needed transformation, which will ultimately benefit the Africa continent as a whole.

The power of sport and television as well other communications tools, including their continued exploitation is now being perfected through emergence of organisations such as Sportel based in Monaco. Sportel is a global forum, which every year unites various key players and stakeholders to exchange ideas, information and experiences in the industry.

If it is not an embarrassment, the fact that only 1 percent of participants at the 2011 Sportel event in Monaco were from the African continent, speaks volumes about the level of development and the seriousness related to the business of sport on the African continent.

This needs to change if Africa is to get her fair share of the cake in the global sports industry.

This change cannot happen overnight but it has to be started somewhere at the top table of African affairs where there is the African Union (AU), the AUB, ANOCA and various African Sports Confederations.

However, Southern Africa, given its relative homogeneity cannot be a passive bystander in this matter.

The state-owned television authorities working in conjunction with sports authorities represented by the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa (SCSA Zone VI, the Confederation of Southern African National Olympic Committees (COSANOC) and Zonal Sports Confederations need to establish a permanent forum to deal with issues of television and sport for the region.

They need to come up with mutually beneficial solutions that will transcend the borders of the region.

There is a dire need to use the power of television to energise the development of sport in Southern Africa, to accelerate the drive towards excellence and professionalism.