JOHANNESBURG, January 29 – Premier Soccer League (PSL) chairman Irvin Khoza painted a bleak picture of how the league could crumble and even close its doors for good should the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) get a new regulation pushed through.
A press conference was held in Johannesburg on Tuesday afternoon to give Khoza the platform to explain how ICASA’s draft regulations – published in the Government Gazette late last month in what appears an attempt to end MultiChoice’s stronghold on sports broadcasting – could potentially force the PSL to ‘close down’.
“We will defend ourselves vigorously against this proposal, using every possible avenue….But at the end of the day, if this is not resolved, we will shut down the PSL,” Khoza warned at the end of his media address.
The official purpose of ICASA’s proposed new regulation is to ‘reach a wider audience [for sport] and to strike a balance between audience and revenue’, as well as to ‘advance equality and human dignity through access to sport of national interest to all citizens’.
Until now, the understanding has been that ICASA’s scope of influence included national team sporting events, but not domestic league games.
Essentially, MultiChoice – the PSL’s main source of income, could be forced to share broadcasting rights for the local soccer league with the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), which would vastly reduce the revenue the PSL currently receive.
MultiChoice subsidiary SuperSport first won the PSL’s broadcasting rights in 2007 in a deal worth more than R1‚6 billion. The latest renewal was made in 2017, and was set to be effective for five seasons from the 2019/2020 season onwards. The amount of the latest deal was undisclosed, but is reported to be far greater than the initial R1‚6 billion.
Khoza believes that ICASA do not have the right to force through their regulation through:
“ICASA’s regulatory powers did not extend to local professional football, because local professional league matches did not fall within a definition of national sporting events. ICASA is now attempting to extend the reach of their power to regulate, to change the framework,” he explained.
“ICASA is attempting to do so after we developed our strategies, after we built our pillars and created our properties. After we tied ourselves into cost burdens, these are the revenues we secured.
“With the stroke of a pen, ICASA now wants to extend its powers to the domestic league and to take away the most important asset we have – the right to sell it. They intend to do so despite our efforts in painstakingly building up our industry.
“We had to build a platform that broadcasters and spectators and sponsors would want to associate with. We did the work necessary to build such a platform over the years with tremendous sacrifices. There is nothing about the league today that is not a result of hard work. We did so safe in the knowledge that in the end, we if we could improve our industry, we could market our product and sell it exclusively if we wanted to.”
With many of the 16 PSL clubs currently sponsor-less, or without any significant sponsors, the monthly grant of R1.5-million they receive from the league basically enables them to stay afloat. For this model to work, the broadcast income is absolutely essential. Without that revenue, the salaries of players and staff would be in jeopardy, academies could be forced close, there will be inadequate funds for security, and many direct and indirect employees could lose their jobs.
The worst case scenario is that the league is forced to close down, which would mean thousands of jobs lost.
“I must make it clear what is at risk here,” Khoza cautioned. “I’m not just referring to the league, I’m not just referring to the clubs, I’m not just referring to the players, but to the entire industry, including those who provide services and who rely on a vibrant and successful sport.
“Without adequate funding for professional football, it will fail. If we cannot meet the cost of excellence, we will be out of business.
“If professional football loses 80 percent of its funding from the broadcasters deal, the industry as we know it will collapse and go back to what it was in 1985. Far less players will be employed, many no doubt will have to be retrenched, and those who have jobs will face falling level of remunerations. Clubs will have to cut their support staff to the bone. Compliance will become unaffordable.“
ICASA’s proposed new regulations will affect most other sporting codes too. The deadline for input from the various sporting federations has been set for March 2019. (ANA)