Solid MSL numbers but questions remain about SABC's viability as broadcaster

SABC spokesperson Neo Momodu told EWN Sport that the broadcaster was satisfied with the eventual outcome of the MSL.

The Durban Heat in action against Cape Town Blitz during their Mzansi Super League match on 18 November 2018. Picture: @MSL_T20/Twitter

CAPE TOWN – Cricket South Africa made a bold move by handing the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) exclusivity to the Mzansi Super League (MSL) broadcasting rights in its inaugural year.

The event attracted 10,6 million unique televisions viewers which compares favourably with the RAM SLAM 2017 which saw 809,000 unique viewers.

SABC spokesperson Neo Momodu told EWN Sport that the broadcaster was satisfied with the eventual outcome of the MSL.

“SABC was pleased with the positive brand exposure it received partnering with the MSL, not only in the broadcast but the various stadium-related activations as it provided us with an opportunity, both on radio and TV, to connect with our viewers.

“The month-long event attracted an average of 350,000 viewers with some matches reaching over half a million viewers.

“The MSL was a first for South Africa, thus a comparative would not be accurate. But for sporting events such as the English Premier League, EFC and cricket in-bound tours on SABC 3 achieves similar audience ratings.”

CSA CEO Thabang Moroe was also content with the numbers of the SABC but he is also aware of the need to drive more revenue from the MSL product.

“From a viewership point of view, the numbers that we experienced were completely new to us as Cricket South Africa because we've never ever given any domestic product to the public broadcaster.

“So those were pretty interesting numbers that we saw but having said that, there's also the commercial business of cricket that we need to take into consideration.”

Despite the favourable viewership data, questions remain about the sustainability of the relationship between CSA and the SABC.

Details about the inner workings of the financial deal brokered between the two bodies were scarce, to say the least.

CSA initially budgeted a R40 million loss for the maiden tournament and it is unknown what the final loss was.

A CSA panel told the parliamentary sports portfolio committee that they project a loss of R654 million in their next four-year financial cycle last year October, a very bleak picture which indicates that the need to monetise their latest T20 product is more pertinent than ever.

“We were very encouraged by the numbers that we saw from an SABC point of view, but it’s not just those numbers that we're looking at. There are various other numbers that we have to look at and make sure that when we look at the picture of cricket, then it's a slightly well-balanced picture."

While Moroe confirmed they would honour their three-year broadcast deal with the SABC, he would not commit to exclusive rights for the public broadcaster, especially with possible negotiations with SuperSport around the corner.

“It (MSL) will stay with SABC. What we would like to do as CSA is to get our other broadcasters involved. But as I said, it will depend on their appetite as well and at what level they would like to get involved.

“There's also still the production space that needs to be discussed. So, there are quite a few opportunities for broadcasters such as SuperSport to get involved.”

There was is no doubt the relationship between CSA and broadcaster SuperSport is estranged after SuperSport pulled out of negotiations and a potential partnership before the 2018 tournament.

This opened up the door for the SABC but with no financial information of the deal CSA and SABC, it is hard to decipher whether it is beneficial for CSA to stick with the SABC.

SuperSport have the rights to all of CSA’s domestic products barring the MSL. The private broadcaster also has the production capacity and financial muscle that SABC sorely lacks, hence Moroe is not ruling out a deal with the private broadcasters in the future.

“As I said given that we've signed a three-year deal with SABC. It does not close the door on any other broadcaster from getting involved.

“We would have to sit down now (with SuperSport) and not waste any time to discuss at what level they want to get involved. It I will be interesting to see the proposal that they would come to the table with.”

Again, Moroe reiterated that the exclusivity of the MSL broadcast rights is not binding with the SABC and they are looking to extract more value from the product.

“We still want the MSL to be on SABC, last year we signed a three-year broadcast deal with the SABC.”