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SABC and IMG agree late Rugby World Cup radio rights deal

South African public-service broadcaster the SABC has struck a last-minute agreement with the IMG agency for selected radio rights to the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which kicked off on Friday.

The deal for live radio rights to four of South Africa’s matches, plus the two semi-finals and the final, avoids a complete free-to-air broadcast blackout of the tournament, which is being broadcast on television by subscription broadcaster SuperSport.

The SABC, which remains plagued by financial trouble as it awaits a government bailout, recently said that it had been unable to acquire sub-licensed television rights to the tournament or radio rights as it was not willing to enter into an agreement that was not “financially viable”.

The radio coverage is available across the Afrikaans-language RSG, English-language Radio 2000 and Xhosa-language Umhlobo Wenene channels. South Africa played their first Rugby World Cup match on Saturday as they lost 23-13 to New Zealand.

Sylvia Tladi, SABC’s acting chief operating officer, said: “We are pleased that we were able to negotiate and get to a point where, in the interest of the public and fulfilling our mandate, the SABC would be able to provide the SA public an opportunity to follow the Springboks on radio.

“Though there will be a [financial] loss, the organisation ensured that it was minimal, as the public broadcaster needed to find middle ground in fulfilling its public mandate, while looking at the financial sustainability of the corporation.”

Speaking in front of South Africa’s Portfolio Committee on Communications last week, 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.

Speaking 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.

Commenting on sports rights acquisitions in general, Mxakwe said: “The board instructed us to say that we will not sign any deal that is not commercially viable for the SABC. What has tended to happen in the past was these deals were signed without necessarily looking at the cost base for the SABC.”

Mxakwe called on the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), the country’s media watchdog, to intervene and facilitate an unbundling of sports broadcast rights.