In our third part of our series in which we sat down with Gary Rathbone, a sports media expert, we discussed what the future holds for sports media rights in Africa.
As the media landscape continues to change and open up, more people are beginning to realise the importance of sports on their platforms. Sport increases interest from the public and as a result, more broadcasters and sponsors are looking for more sports content.
Up until now the way sports rights are really worked in Africa is the big International media agencies, come and sell their rights to SuperSports and the other major broadcasters within Africa. But there are only so many of those big sport properties that they have, that can make a difference. Once you’ve sold the EPL (English Premier League), La Liga, Bundesliga, F1 and the big golf and tennis tournaments, then you start going down to sports properties where there isn’t a huge demand. The focus, for African broadcasters, has always been on sitting around waiting for the international agencies to come and bring the big global properties that they can acquire and put on their platform.
It’s been terrible how local sports rights have been rejected and the fact of the matter is that there are no agencies actually on the continent who are focusing on African sports rights, it is very frustrating and short sighted.
One of the arguments that I often get with broadcasters when I ask why they don’t take local sports property, their response is that no one else outside of the country would watch it. But at the same time, they buy global sports where the demand and International appeal is low, but yet they still buy that because it is international.
Another frustrating issue is that, if people get behind local sports, there is an opportunity to build a sports ecosystem in Africa, due to the quality. How do you know who is actually interested in Kenyan Volleyball for example, until you put it onto the TV.?
To me, one of the biggest things that I can’t understand and I’ve been knocked back on this a couple times, is that the Egyptian league is a very good level of football. Great football, one of the top teams in Africa, the league is well run, the fans are passionate, the coverage is great and most football fans in Africa understand Egyptian football and know who the top teams are. Most football fans in Africa probably have as much an understanding of the Egyptian league as they would say the Serie A or the Dutch Eredivisie, certainly more than the Belgian League. Yet I would be able to sell the rights for the Belgian league in Africa tomorrow, but they won’t be interested in taking the Egyptian league. Although the Egyptian rights could be bought for next to nothing, nobody wants to take that chance.
It’s really sad, we have an opportunity to start doing more in building African sports rights and I think this is what the future is. Eventually there will be more space to fill and less decent content. At some point someone is going to say, for example, I can get a minor cycling tour from Spain or I can get the Egyptian league – and they will go for the Egyptian league – Someone is going to start doing this.
Likewise, someone will realise Kenyan women are the African champions in volleyball. If you are a volleyball fan anywhere in Africa and the Kenyan women are going to play, you’ll definitely want to see them in action, because they are the best. It’s like saying ‘only Brazilians are going to watch Brazilian football’. We watch Brazilian football because we know they are the best in the world and are really good. We watch the Egyptians because they are the best in Africa.
Nigerian football is another example. Don’t tell me people outside of Nigeria won’t want to watch Nigerian football. Nigerian football is huge; people know the teams and the players. It has a position on the continent that people recognise. You can’t tell me people outside of Nigeria won’t want to watch that. Will they want to watch the Lesotho league? Probably not no, but its not the same as Nigerian football. I think people have started realising that we are going to have to start getting more engaged with acquiring African sports and start building them up.
Another part of the problem is that the broadcasters have not given their full support to local sports. For many years, only up until recently, if a league wanted their matches on television they would have to go to the broadcaster and pay the broadcaster to cover their game, infact it still happens in certain countries. This is flabbergasting. So for many broadcasters, they’ll pay $10,000, for example, to get the Scottish League or they charge $10,000 to get 1 game for their local league, which clubs cant afford.
Up until now, the Free-To-Air (FTA) broadcasters have been very single-minded, small, inward looking and state controlled. There would be questions as to whether games would be covered by an outside broadcaster, but it would all depend on what the President of the nation in concern would be doing that weekend. If the President was out of town that weekend and the FTA broadcaster would need to follow him, they wouldn’t be able to show the game that weekend. But if the President were around then they would be able to show the game.
I think that is all starting to change now as they begin to realise their commercial potential. National and independent broadcasters are realising that there is a huge amount of revenue to be made from the commercial sector, as economies have changed. All of these things are creating a very good environment to start changing things, realising that we need more sports content and eventually people are going to start realising the next place to go is going to be African Sports Rights.
I think that this is where the future is going to be. There is an opportunity opening up in African sports rights and we need to start preparing for that because its going to come. There is going to be a lot more broadcasters and a lot less international media rights to meet demand.