SIG Talks Sport and the Law

20 Mar 2015

In the absence of broadcast technology, many sports fans around the world would not be able to view nor share in the excitement of major sporting events. Broadcast technologies have transformed the spectator experience, bringing the live action of sporting events to spectators on multiple platforms and in multiple formats.

The broadcasting of live sport has evolved exponentially since the first televised broadcast of a sporting event at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, broadcast to an estimated 162,000 people using just three cameras, only one of which was capable of live transmission. The famous coverage of Jesse Owens winning the 100 meter final formed part of this very first live sporting event broadcast. Just less than 80 years later, thanks to major advances in broadcast technology, a cumulative audience of 4.8 billion viewers tuned into the 2012 London Olympic Games and an estimated 2.6 billion viewers watched the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final in Brazil (each match covered by 34 cameras)…… high definition and 3-D formats, along with an astounding array of angles, effects and tools to view and review every detail of play.

The sale of broadcasting and media rights has become the chief income stream in the business of sport. The sector has benefitted significantly from the huge injection of financial resources derived from the sale of these rights. FIFA derived income of USD3.9 billion from the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, USD2.4 billion (62%) of which was from the sale of broadcasting rights. Broadcasting rights also help boost other sporting revenue streams such as in-stadia advertising, team and event sponsorship and venue naming rights, all of which acquire added value on the back of the visibility that broadcasting affords.   

So what are these “broadcasting rights” in relation to sports events ? No doubt everyone will have a similar answer if asked to define the term. Most will answer “The right to broadcast a sporting event” or “The right to produce and broadcast a sporting event”. These answers are not wrong. However, from a legal perspective, there is no such thing as “broadcasting rights” in South African law.

In reality, the grant of “broadcasting rights” covers a multitude of rights in relation to an event:

  1. The right to access the venue/s for the purpose of broadcasting the event;
  2. In relation to the right in Point 1, this right of access may be exclusive ie to the exclusion of all other broadcasters. This exclusion would have to be enforced through ticketing conditions brought to the attention of a ticket purchaser before the act of ticket purchase;
  3. The right to film the event;
  4. The right to provide a clean or partially clean feed to other licensed broadcasters;
  5. The right to retain copyright in the broadcast or film recording (as the author and owner of the recording), unless such rights have been assigned to the event rights holder in the broadcasting rights agreement.

There are also a number of non-legal benefits that can be granted as part of a broadcasting rights package, such as the right of the broadcaster to utilise their own presenters to conduct half time and post-event interviews or present the post event awards. In addition, certain event specific information and data can be made available to the contracted broadcaster to which a non-contracted broadcaster would not ordinarily have access.

The importance of defining “broadcasting rights” has never been as important as it is now. The increasing convergence between modes of delivery is resulting in the divergence of markets for broadcasting rights. Rights attached to mobile or internet broadcasts are becoming as important as television broadcast rights. Broadcasting rights for conventional television will be sold separately to broadcasting rights for delivery over mobile phones. These “alternative” or “new” media rights are still in their infancy but are developing at a significant pace, as popularity and access grows at an alarming rate. As the number of different interests in the market and the value of broadcasting rights for an event increase, legal regulation becomes increasingly important, especially in a country where “broadcasting rights” do not exist in law. 

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