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Part 2: Acquiring Sports Broadcasting Rights

Written by Gary Rathbone

In our second part of our series in which we sat down with Gary Rathbone, a sports media expert, we discussed what broadcasters look for in acquiring sports and which media has the greatest reach in Africa.

What do broadcasters look for in a sport in order to acquire the rights?

Well I’d say that there are 2 key things here:

  • Price
  • Audience

If you are a Pay TV broadcaster, the question is: Would the sport add value to my subscribers and possibly attract more subscribers? Or would it stop my subscribers leaving me and going somewhere else?

If you are a Free-to-Air (FTA) broadcaster, the question is: would enough people watch this, so as to attract sponsors and advertising? Or sponsor the broadcast as I am going to have an audience for it?

Kenyan Women’s Volleyball Team celebrating in victory

Frankly, that is the bottom line whether it is a soap opera, a football match or a chess match. Whatever it is, that is what the broadcasters are always looking for – is there a good, big audience for it and what is the cost?

A big reason why broadcasters do not support local African sports is because they can’t prove a TV audience for this. My response is that it would be worth their while to start to build a TV audience for this, as it can potentially be massive. There wasn’t a TV audience for the English Premier League many years ago; they built it over a period of time. It didn’t spring fully formed into this billion dollar business, it took time to build, as all sports. The Chinese are doing the same thing, they have decided that they are going to really support football. You have got to build it, you can’t expect it to happen overnight.

They are not giving the chance to build those audiences, but eventually I feel that they will start to realise there is an audience there.

A jubilant Kenyan Women’s Volleyball team

Take Kenyan Women’s Volleyball for example, there are over 1 million signed up members to volleyball clubs in Kenya, which shows that a huge amount of people are involved on a general basis in volleyball. Now if you put volleyball on TV and market it properly, you can’t tell me that there is not going to be a bigger audience than what you’ll get for the Eredivisie or the Belgian Football League at 5 times less the cost than you’ll need to deliver volleyball content to your audience.

So, the key aspects broadcasters are looking for is Audience and Price. They don’t see it right now in African sports, but they need to start thinking about how to build those audiences, because the audiences are there. They just have to create the right content and the right approach to those audiences to make it happen.


Which media is better to reach the masses: Radio or TV?

Radio is still the way that reaches the masses most certainly. But TV has a key role to play from a sponsor’s point of view. One thing about TV is that it has a high profile and where it is really strong is in urban areas where the bigger economic spend is. If you go to the radio and look at the people that advertise on the radio in comparison to the TV, it is a much higher level of product that is advertised on the TV because that’s where the urban audience is, who have more to spend.

So radio still has the best reach, but TV has a more significant reach. But I think the real way forward is going to be in the digital online streaming space, which will give you “TV on the radio” as it were.

This is  because, although broadband wouldn’t roll out significantly to the rural areas, once we get 4G and 5G rolling out over the next couple of years and Telco change their model from trying to sell data to maintaining subscribers (e.g. if you sign up with this package you’ll get free unlimited data), people can start streaming games and content without costing them anymore over above their monthly subscriptions. This will change the whole environment completely.

In addition to the paid TV rights, digital rights are going to end up being the most important rights in the future. From an African sports point of view, a lot more federations and associations need to start making sure that they protect that area and don’t give everything away when they do their deals with broadcasters. They need to start separating and looking for the best, locking off their interest by selling things separately.

About the author

Gary Rathbone

Gary Rathbone is the founder of Sports News Africa, an endeavor to create new and relevant sports programming for African broadcasters and advertisers looking to bring engaging sports content to viewers across the continent.

With over 30 years experience in African football as a journalist and TV producer for African sports shows inc the first pan-African football show, The African Soccer Show, Futbol Africa for SuperSport and helped create and manage the CAF African Player of the Year Awards event between 2001 and 2005.

He won the SAB South African Sports Journalist of the Year award for Best TV Insert in 2006 for his piece on football and reconciliation in Rwanda, produced for his Futbol Africa show.

He also has good relationships with many of the major role-players and sponsors involved not only in African football but other sports, most notably Nigerian basketball, Kenyan athletics and Kenyan and Ugandan rugby. As well as in Rwanda, Zambia and South Africa.

LinkedIn: Gary Rathbone

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