SuperSport and Cricket SA relationship at an all-time low

CEO Thabang Moroe of CSA and COO Chris Maroleng of SABC during the CSA media briefing on T20 League at CSA Head Quarters on September 26, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images)

CEO Thabang Moroe of CSA and COO Chris Maroleng of SABC during the CSA media briefing on T20 League at CSA Head Quarters on September 26, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images)

Commercially, cricket’s governing body can’t survive without the pay broadcaster.

An unprecedented letter, sent by SuperSport to Cricket SA (CSA) two weeks ago, is the latest indication that the 30-year relationship between the broadcaster and cricket’s mother body is at an all-time low.

The letter, penned by a senior member of the SuperSport management team, suggested a bridge-building session between the two parties to discuss their deteriorating relationship post the Mzansi Super League (MSL), but the invitation was rebuffed by CSA.

Addressed to Thabang Moroe and Chris Nenzani, CSA’s chief executive and president respectively, as well as independent director, Iqbal Khan, the letter proposed a round-table discussion also featuring two members of each parties’ board.

It’s understood that Nenzani washed his hands of the matter entirely, while Moroe suggested a one-on-one meeting between himself and SuperSport’s chief executive, Gideon Khobane, instead.

This has not come to pass and therefore the relationship – worth R300m in terms of the current broadcast deal which ends in 2021 – is only legally binding, with a breakdown of trust on either side.

While the existence of the letter, sourced from outside both SuperSport and CSA, is not in dispute, it does take issue with some of Moroe’s comments about SuperSport on social media during the inaugural edition of the MSL.

It also points out that CSA are contractually obliged to oversee a second T20 tournament this season, something about which CSA are known to have reservations given that the MSL has already taken place and running such a tournament amounts to “scooping” their own product.

As it stands, a sponsor-less domestic T20 tournament (Ram/Slam have withdrawn as sponsors) will now take place in April.

CSA released the tournament fixture list this week and it takes place at exactly the same time as the Indian Premier League (IPL).

It will contain no South African marquee players who are IPL-contracted.

The broken relationship between SuperSport and CSA goes back to the winter of 2018 when the two parties were about to form a third entity to co-run a – as yet unnamed – international T20 to replace the previous season’s postponed T20Global.

After formally announcing their “equity partnership,” matters soured, and CSA went it alone, choosing the SABC as broadcast partners for the new tournament rather than SuperSport.

Reception to the SABC’s broadcast of the MSL was mixed, although numbers, according to one industry pundit, were 400 000 viewers per match on average, an impressive figure significantly larger than what they would have been if the tournament were floated on SuperSport.

“Problem is CSA are now between a rock and a hard place,” said an industry insider.

“They’ve effectively given the Mzansi away for free. That might change, they might re-negotiate the deal in year two, but there’s no way they can commercialise this property to the same extent on the SABC that they would be able to do so if they were on SuperSport.”

Not only did CSA give their rights to last year’s MSL for free they also ended up footing the tournament production costs.

Even after the collapse of their equity agreement with SuperSport, the pay-channel offered CSA R50-million for the rights – R50-million more than they received from the bankrupt state broadcaster.

The kerfuffle takes place against a shifting broadcast backdrop, with uncertainty bedevilling the rights market in the wake of the Independent Broadcast Authority of SA’s (Icasa) latest draft proposals. Simply put, these suggest that more content than has hitherto been available should find its way onto free-to-air platforms such as the SABC.

While all well and good, such a suggestion neglects the fact that the SABC have paid neither CSA for the MSL rights, nor can they pay the SA Football Association for Bafana Bafana’s rights.

A “free-rights” jamboree would signal commercial suicide for sport in this country as we know it.

By contrast, SuperSport can and do pay handsomely for rights fees.

When contacted for comment, Supersport responded as follows through their spokesman, Clinton van der Berg: “Our dealings with all federations, remain confidential, and this extends to CSA.”

CSA did not respond to two requests for comment.

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