Sports broadcasting rights have risen in value, not just in dollar terms, but also in importance for traditional TV companies fighting a losing battle against streaming services such as Netflix.
While online and video-on-demand allow consumers to view programmes at their leisure, thus freeing them from the tyranny of a fixed schedule, sporting events are also a major draw for traditional media platforms.
However, they do not come cheap.
TV rights in the United States alone are projected to rise 9 per cent a year to US$19.3 billion in 2018, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
As costs rise, some established broadcasters are opting to reduce sports coverage. Last year the BBC said it would cut Â£35 million (Dh187.9m) from its sports rights budget with some events to be dropped from free-to-air television in Britain. This was in response to declining viewership and, crucially, a migration to online platforms.
Should sport viewing move online it would hurt established broadcasters even more. Alternative platforms may well find quickest growth in regions such as Africa, where traditional broadcast infrastructure is limited, says Philip Leavesley, a Johannesburg-based legal consultant specialising in sports rights negotiation.
“The cost of data would make this prohibitive for most people currently but it’s not to say that special packages could be negotiated between mobile providers and sport franchises to allow users to stream specific sporting events using dedicated bundles.”
About 67 per cent of Africa’s population of about 1.13 billion have mobile phones, according to a study by StarTimes Group, a digital broadcast provider based in Nigeria.
At the same time about 26.5 per cent of the population is on the internet, with 50.3 million on Facebook.
With such a high number of users accessing the net via a handset, it may be inevitable that companies providing sports broadcasting begin looking at using their platforms for live streaming.
Zimbabwe’s Kwese Sports is a new sports channel launched at the end of last year. The company is owned by Econet, a mobile provider founded by Strive Masiyiwa, a Zimbabwean billionaire now living in London.
Econet has a wide footprint across Africa as a mobile services provider. This puts it in an ideal position to use its sports broadcasting franchise together with its mobile platform.
In the meantime, African sport itself stands to gain. “Many of the African players now competing at an international level overseas were first spotted playing in local tournaments,” Mr Leavesley says.
“Scouts routinely attend large regional events such as the African Cup of Nations, but as coverage of smaller events increases, more athletes will gain exposure and a shot at being signed up.”
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