Another deal … another disaster

All talk of taking the game to the masses has again been crushed by an ill-considered broadcasting deal that lacks integrity and common sense.

It should surprise no one that the South African Rugby Union and its incumbent broadcasting partner SuperSport would pat each other on the back and publicly applaud each other’s ability to scratch the other’s back. The insensitivity of the weekend press statement to boast about a broadcasting deal that will run to 2015 is only matched by insensitivity to the needs of a mass market unlikely to ever afford pay per view television.

Yet rugby’s administration will spend most of the year, as it has done in the past, attempting to put a spin on the need to take to the game to the mass market. Hollow words. Shallow actions. The shenanigans of the South African game played out in its worst form. Take your pick because this was a deal that should never have been done in 2007

Unfortunately, there was nothing revolutionary about SARU President Oregan Hoskins signing away the broadcasting rights of South Africa’s domestic rugby and incoming tours to SuperSport’s monopoly until 2015.

All it has done is entrench rugby as a sport for the elite. So much for building on the momentum of the 2007 World Cup win.

Hoskins, in defending the deal, told the Argus’s Dale Granger that the greatest victory in the negotiation was that it was concluded without anybody getting paid a cent in commission.

Have you ever heard such naivety?

Big broadcasting deals are brokered by experts who get commission because it is their job to get the respective sporting code the best possible deal. Not so in this case. The South African Rugby Union and local broadcaster SuperSport decided to keep it in the family and settle matters in-house.

The SABC, the national broadcaster, was not even offered an opportunity to bid for the rights. Neither was ETV. And neither was any consideration given to those new players that will be in the market in the next 12-18 months.

As it stands the SABC pays SuperSport R50 million a year for the minimal rugby shown on SABC. Consider this and then consider that the giant custodians of South African rugby have given away all domestic rugby and incoming tours for R140 million a year – a figure that by 2011 will be closer to R100 million (in real currency) than the agreed amount of 2007.

You don’t need a hell of a lot upstairs to know what SuperSport will price any annual sale to SABC for in 2011. Yet we have an elected official boasting about the brilliance of the business decision.

Co-opted SA Rugby Pty Ltd board member Cheeky Watson was one of only two board members to dispute the deal, in terms of its financial status, as well as the ethics around the deal.

The obvious question Watson asked is why the right to broadcast South African rugby had not gone out for tender? Secondly, how could a deal that will run to 2015 be agreed in 2007?

SA Rugby Pty Ltd MD Jonathan Stones told Business Day that the commercial arm of SARU had no obligation to put it out for tender, that it was ‘a great deal’ and that it did not need the President’s Council’s approval. He said that despite this he had individually contacted the provincial presidents. WP reject they were informed.

Hoskins, in defending SuperSport, applauded the broadcaster as a sponsor and marketing ally of South African rugby. Which broadcaster, in a similar position, would not be a wonderful bedfellow to the world champion Springboks?

Western Province and Eastern Province were just two provinces to object to the negotiations last December. However, by December the deal had already been signed a month before. Brian van Rooyen was kicked out of South African rugby for making those kind of decisions. Hoskins says he had the support of the President’s Council. Western Province and Eastern Province are just two who say this is not the case.

SuperSport, as a deal closer, agreed to pay SARU R30 million now, so as to assist SARU in showing a healthier financial position at year-end.

Watson and SARU vice president Koos Basson both want the R30 million paid back to SuperSport and the agreement declared invalid.

Watson has asked for a government investigation – and it is an investigation that should have the blessing of all South African rugby people.

Former SARU president (Brian) van Rooyen was found guilty of a lack of transparency and a disregard for corporate governance issues. Hoskins, on replacing Van Rooyen, said his administration would never be guilty of lacking transparency or good corporate governance.

The financial folly aside, the biggest issue is the continued absence of regular exposure to the game on SABC. Rugby’s biggest commitment to the growth of the game had to be towards including (and not excluding) SABC. Again the administration has failed in the most obvious way. Rugby can never be the people’s game when the majority of South Africans are denied the right to watch the game.