Sponsors spooked by PSL blackout

The winners of the Absa Premiership 2018/19 title, Mamelodi Sundowns, celebrate their victory. PSL sponsors Absa are worried about this season's TV blackout impasse.
The winners of the Absa Premiership 2018/19 title, Mamelodi Sundowns, celebrate their victory. PSL sponsors Absa are worried about this season's TV blackout impasse.
Image: Steve Haag/Gallo Images Steve Haag

The Premier Soccer League (PSL) faces possible collapse as some of its major sponsors are reconsidering their backing of the league worth hundreds of millions of rands.

This shocking development came after the SA Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) failed to secure rights to broadcast local professional soccer matches, both on TV and radio, significantly robbing the brands of an opportunity to reach all South Africans.

Pay TV channel SuperSport currently owns exclusive TV rights to the PSL matches after paying more than R2bn for a five-year deal that started this month.

As the holder of the rights, SuperSport has asked the cash-strapped SABC to fork out R280m per season to access the 144 matches.

It was estimated that during that period the SABC would earn R9.8m as revenue per year, which it says will be a significant drop compared to previous years and, therefore, would not make commercial sense.

With a soccer-mad population of 58million people, many South Africans rely solely on the public broadcaster for live matches, news and updates.

There are an estimated
seven million DStv subscribers in the country, half of whom are believed not to be interested in watching the local games.

As a result of these dynamics, sponsors would not be able to derive maximum return on investment as they would not be able to sell their products to all sections of the population.

Sunday World has learned that some of the backers have raised their concerns with the PSL and were putting pressure on the league to ensure a speedy solution to the impasse that has seen a blackout of soccer on SABC platforms since the new soccer season started.

Mato Madlala, who has been acting chief executive of the PSL for the past four years, denied that there were jitters within the sponsorship community and that they were approached about the concerns.

But her story was blown out of the water as the league's title sponsors Absa and top 8 knockout cup backers MTN confirmed that they were "concerned" and that they have "engaged" the football administrators about the matter.

Absa, whose partnership with the PSL is worth more than R500m over five years, said, "Absa naturally wants maximum media coverage for the Absa Premiership across all platforms in order to reach football fans nationally."

The bank's spokesperson, Songezo Zibi, said: "We therefore urge all concerned parties to find a speedy resolution to the impasse so that football fans can get access to information about their favourite Absa Premiership teams and idols.

"The PSL is our partner in the Absa Premiership sponsorship, and we have discussed this matter with them. They have also kept us abreast of developments on a regular basis. Our primary concern is the fans whose support for the Absa Premiership we deeply appreciate."

The winners of the league will pocket a record R15m this year, up from last season's R10m.

Speaking on behalf of MTN SA, Jacqui O'Sullivan said they were proud to have been sponsoring the Wafa Wafa competition for the past 12 years but they were concerned by the broadcast blackout on the SABC.

"The current issue related to coverage of the MTN8 by the public broadcaster is certainly a concern. MTN is engaging with the PSL to ensure both MTN and its customers can continue to derive great value from the tournament.

"The matter regarding the broadcasting rights of the MTN8 tournament remains an exclusive discussion between the SABC and PSL. As sponsors, we will continue to engage the PSL as it seeks a resolution and we therefore prefer not to speculate on any potential outcome of these ongoing discussions," she said.

The competition, which sees the champions pocket a whopping R8m prize money, kicked off yesterday.

Another telecoms company, Telkom, whose sponsorship of the PSL was no less than R100m over five years, also raised its concerns.

Spokesperson Mooketsi Mocumi said: "We are concerned about the impasse between the SABC and the PSL. At this stage we are hopeful that the parties will find each other [to end] the blackout that would marginalise the majority of the South African football followers."

The Telkom Knockout Cup, which involves all 16 PSL sides, pays R4m to the winners from a total prize money of R14m.

The Nedbank Cup, which covers all the PSL clubs as well as second tier league and amateur sides, has prize money of R7m for winners, R2.5m for runners up and R1m each for both the third and fourth-placed sides.

The bank, however, did not want to be drawn into the fracas, instead choosing to respond in a short statement.

"We are unable to comment on this matter. The PSL would be best placed to respond to this query," said a spokesperson.

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