The South African Rugby Union (Saru) is being sued for R183 million, following a three-year enquiry into advertising rights which came to a close last year.
Aerios, the agency which had managed the advertising rights of the Western Province Rugby Union (WPRU) between 2012 and 2015, is claiming damages against both Saru and WPRU due to unlawful conduct, it was revealed on Wednesday. It is alleged that Saru had threatened to withhold a commercially important Test match allocation to Newlands to extract WPRU from rights agreements with Aerios.
“Saru purposely ignored the rights WPRU had granted to Aerios and instead concluded broadcasting and mobile digital agreements with SuperSport,” Aerios claimed.
According to Aerios chief executive director Costas Constantinou, the company was also granted the exclusive rights to create, develop, install and operate Wi-Fi and DAS networks, as well as digital mobile content at Newlands rugby stadium.
It was also awarded the exclusive rights, for a period of 20 years, to develop and operate official WPRU applications from which the digital content could be viewed by supporters.
In legal papers, Aerios alleged that WPRU had considered every available option – including obtaining multiple legal opinions – for ridding itself of Aerios and appeasing Saru by going into liquidation, on the grounds that it was unable to pay its debts.
As a result, the WPRU’s advertising contract with Aerios was not honoured from 2016 onwards.
“We believe that Saru endorsed the liquidation of WPRU,” Constantinou said.
“In doing so, it abused its effective monopoly over professional rugby and its position of authority over its members.
“In addition, it intentionally interfered with and forced WPRU to end its contractual relationship between WPRU and Aerios.”