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Late SABC deal for Rugby World Cup final rights

South African public-service broadcaster the SABC has agreed a sublicensing deal with pay-television broadcaster SuperSport that ensures Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final between South Africa and England receives free-to-air coverage.

SABC 2 will broadcast Saturday’s match live, along with Friday’s bronze medal game between New Zealand and Wales.

South Africa defeated Wales 19-16 on Sunday to seal its place in the final, however the World Cup has been without free-to-air television coverage in the country up to this stage. The cash-strapped broadcaster last month struck a last-minute agreement with the IMG agency for selected radio rights to the World Cup.

The deal for live radio rights to four of South Africa’s matches, plus the two semi-finals and the final, avoided a complete free-to-air broadcast blackout of the tournament, but pressure has been rising in South Africa to ensure wider coverage, which intensified after Sunday’s game.

Speaking in front of South Africa’s Portfolio Committee on Communications last month, SABC group chief executive Madoda Mxakwe claimed that radio rights to the tournament had been priced at $60,000 by IMG. He also said that SuperSport wanted $28m for the television rights to the tournament and that SABC would need to spend an additional $900,000 on production.

On the deal for the final, Mxakwe said: “The SABC is excited to be able to bring this historic game to the nation, as the public broadcaster recognises the role it plays in social cohesion, nation building and promoting sports of national interest. We remain committed to entering into commercially viable agreements and we support and wish the Springboks well as they pursue a place in history.”

Speaking last month about what he described as the “exorbitant” cost of sports rights, Mxakwe said that ZAR400m (€24.4m / $26.8m) of SABC’s ZAR483m annual loss for the 2018-19 period was due to its investment in sports rights.

Elsewhere, New Zealand telecoms operator Spark has decided to make Friday’s game available on a one-hour delay on free-to-air television.

Public-service broadcaster TVNZ was contracted to show a minimum of seven live matches from the World Cup, including the final as well as substantial highlights and delayed match programming, with the latter including coverage of New Zealand’s group matches.

The third-place playoff wasn’t included in this package, but Spark, whose coverage receive complaints during the early stages of the tournament, has elected to change this now that New Zealand is competing in the game.

All Spark Sport RWC Tournament Pass subscribers and New Zealand v Wales Match Pass customers will be able to watch the match live. Spark Sport monthly subscribers and those viewing on TVNZ 1 will be able to watch the delayed coverage.

The England-New Zealand semi-final attracted a strong audience in France as free-to-air commercial broadcaster TF1 averaged 3.85 million viewers (a 45.3-per-cent viewing share). TF1’s live coverage of the South Africa-Wales match on Sunday morning was watched by 3.78 million viewers (a 42.5-per-cent share).

Semi-final viewing figures

ITV, the UK commercial broadcaster, pulled in an average audience of 7.4 million (and 65-per-cent viewing share) for England’s semi-final win over New Zealand.

ITV’s audience peaked at 10 million viewers (a 72-per-cent share).

The England-New Zealand semi-final also attracted a strong audience in France as free-to-air commercial broadcaster TF1 averaged 3.85 million viewers (a 45.3-per-cent viewing share). TF1’s live coverage of the South Africa-Wales match on Sunday morning was watched by 3.78 million viewers (a 42.5-per-cent share).