SABC recruits Rathbone to head up sports operations

Gary Rathbone, the African sports media consultant and former head of sport at pay-television broadcaster StarTimes, is to take up a new role as head of sport at South African public broadcaster the SABC, SportBusiness understands.

Having left StarTimes in 2015 to work in consultancy and advisory positions in the sports media sector, including the brokering of sports rights deals, Rathbone is to assume the position at SABC at the start of next week.

It is understood that Rathbone has been brought on with not only a remit to oversee sports rights acquisitions and sports programming operations, but also the launch of a standalone SABC sports channel.

The move means that Rathbone will be taking a full-time position in the sports rights industry for the first time in his native South Africa.

Rathbone joined StarTimes in the middle of 2014 after a year in Kenya as head of sport at Zuku TV, the East African pay-television operator. He spent six-and-a-half years at Supersport, including a four-and-a-half-year spell managing the pay-television operator’s network outside of South Africa.

Following his departure from StarTimes, he was brought on board by Discovery to advise the US-based media group on its strategy in entering the sports landscape in sub-Saharan Africa.

The SABC holds various rights to properties, including the Olympic Games, a handful of the South African Football Association’s properties and the top-tier Premier Soccer League. At the start of the year, the broadcaster acquired the rights to a host of events held by Athletics South Africa until the end of the 2020 season.

Until now, the sports content acquired by SABC has been showcased across its main three channels (SABC 1, SABC 2 and SABC 3). SportBusiness understands that the SABC, with new management board members having come on board, has plans in place for a single SABC sports channel to consolidate that output.

Earlier this year, it was announced that the SABC would receive more than ZAR1bn (€49.9m/$54m) in the final tranche of the government bailout. The sum brought the total amount of funding provided to the SABC by the South African Treasury to ZAR3.2bn in just under five months.

Speaking in front of South Africa’s Portfolio Committee on Communications eight months ago, group chief executive Madoda Mxakwe said that 83 per cent of all the broadcaster’s expenditure went directly on the acquisition of sports rights. This contributed to a ZAR483m loss for the 2018-19 financial year.