E.tv scores a soccer own goal

Station sublicenses rights to Supersport in hopes of recouping costs

JOHANNESBURG — The World Cup soccer dream of South African terrestrial station e.tv is becoming a nightmare — it could end up with a shortfall of $5 million on the reported $10 million it paid for exclusive broadcasting rights.

E.tv has sublicensed the satellite rights to paybox Supersport for around $2 million in an attempt to recoup some of its costs for the 64-match tourney to be held in South Korea and Japan May 31-June 30.

The upstart, launched in 1998 as South Africa’s first terrestrial channel, pulled off a major coup when it netted the tourney last August against established rivals pubcaster SABC and Supersport.

The deal included satellite and radio broadcasting rights, although the broadcaster does not own a satellite channel or radio stations.

E.tv has not disclosed how much it paid, but industry buzz puts it at $8 million-$10 million, numbers regarded by analysts and bidding rivals as unrealistically high for the South African market.

The last World Cup, held in France in 1998, drew an average match audience of 1.3 million viewers for the SABC.

E.tv hopes the tourney will put it on the map as a serious player and a premier entertainment and sports channel.

CEO Marcel Golding was also confident that it could recover the costs with sponsorship and advertising, particularly since e.tv had the monopoly in South Africa.

But the World Cup has proved to be less attractive to sponsors than Golding anticipated. Two weeks before kickoff, the station has still not secured a major sponsor. The station has sold around $500,000 in advertising.

Vodacom has come in as a subsidiary sponsor. But negotiations with Coca-Cola, among others, fell through.

E.tv has been showing steady viewership growth but has yet to break even.

Big losses associated with the World Cup deal would put the station under extra financial pressure. Contributing to the difficulty is the time difference between South Africa and South Korea/Japan, which means most matches will be broadcast outside primetime; the home team is not expected to make it through to the second round; and e.tv has only one channel, which means not all matches will be broadcast live.

E.tv has been tightlipped about the financial implications. Supersport, however, is delighted that it will keep its 2.4 million satellite viewers in 40 countries in Africa happy. “This is one of the greatest sporting occasions on Earth, and it’s wonderful to be part of it,” says CEO Heinrich Enslin.

Enslin says Supersport did not anticipate difficulty in netting sponsors, despite e.tv’s problems. “We have a wealthier audience profile and loyal advertisers,” he says.