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Weighing the cost and value of world cup coverage

Even with fun, new-fangled ways to share experiences, such as Twitter and Facebook, even with online and with the 2010 FIFA World Cup haven taken place right here in our own country, big international sporting events belong to television.
You might have sprung the cash to go see two or three live games during the tournament but most of us caught the action on the telly in our own homes or at pubs and fan parks. Which is why Sunday's world cup final - the peculiar heavy-breathing world feed commentator John Helm aside - between Spain and the Netherlands broke broadcasting records around the globe.

Broadcasting records

Among them:
  • 700-million people watched the game globally, according to FIFA, which is more than the 600 million who watched the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
  • A record average of 16-million people in Spain watched the game on the three channels broadcasting the match in the country.
  • In the UK, the BBC's audience was million, compared with 3.3 million for ITV - the state broadcaster's biggest audience for a world cup final since France 1998.
  • Even in the US, where football is viewed largely as a game for girls, 24 million people watched the final - a record audience for the broadcast of a soccer game in the country.
It would make Arthur C Clarke proud and here in South Africa we're likely to produce record-breakers, too, although the finalised TAMS numbers for the Spain-Netherlands clash from the South African Advertising Research Foundation (SAARF) were not available at the time of writing. In-home figures for the two semifinals, however, show that 10.344 million South Africans watched the Uruguay-Netherlands game and 10.279 million watched the Germany-Spain match.

Likewise, the numbers for the final at DStv's SuperSport - which held the exclusive pay-TV rights for the world cup for Africa - are being finalised, but it looks like it's shaping up to be a best-ever: 1.433 million households, not taking into account out-of-home viewers.

Clinton van der Berg, SuperSport International's communications manager, says this would put the South African audience for the world cup final higher than the recent Super14 rugby final in Soweto (1.299 million households) and the South Africa-Mexico opening World Cup game (1.247 million).

Tuned in

According to SAARF TAMS figures, 10.15 million South Africans watched the crucial South Africa-Uruguay match in which we were exited from the tournament, while 10.06 million caught the SA-Mexico game and then 9.5 million of us tuned in to support the last African team standing, Ghana, when it played Uruguay in the knockout phase.

Incredible as these figures are, one wonders if it has translated into lots of lovely lolly in advertising revenue. Was this the media bonanza many were hoping for? Independent media planner (and football fan of note) Gordon Muller thinks not. The SABC ad rates were prohibitively high for many advertisers, he says, and the broadcast rights came at a pretty penny. He believes outdoor advertising firms and those not having to pay for media rights, such as newspapers, scored the most out of this world cup.

Taken a hit?

Media houses such as Avusa would have done very nicely, thank you very much, out of their special sponsored world cup supplements. But I'm guessing we may see a dip in newspaper circulation over the world cup as those titles that rely heavily on street sales would have taken a hit during the long school holidays. School rush hour is one of the chief selling times for many daily titles.

The SABC is not open about its financial affairs at the best of times but it seems that we can presume the national broadcaster laid out at least R200 million for world cup rights, according to a May press conference. SuperSport was mum on what it paid but you can trust it cost a pretty penny, considering it is forking out R2 billion over five years for the exclusive broadcast rights of PSL soccer games.

Sports broadcast rights is an expensive game and PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that the global value of sports TV rights worldwide will rise from US$23-billion in 2009 to US$27-billion in 2013. While the rising cost of live sports broadcasting rights is exerting a major pressure on pay-TV operators' margins worldwide, it is also their biggest revenue driver. Live sports coverage is a major attraction for many subscribers.

Moolah came rolling in

Before the world cup, Van der Berg told Bizcommunity that SuperSport was aiming to achieve two key things from its world cup coverage: to up the advertising revenue and the long-term benefit of signing up more subscribers, though churn was expected after the tournament. All advertising space was booked up before the tournament started, so we can assume that the moolah came rolling in. Decoder sales in SA and across the continent were excellent, Van der Berg said this week, though he declined to give exact figures.

Richard Lord, associate media director at media-planning firm The MediaShop, believes we will see a rise in world cup ad spend in South Africa, citing AdEx figures for January to April this year - R8.03 billion - a 14.9% increase from R6.98-billion for the same period last year]]. And there's still May, June and July to factor in.

One must remember that the AdEx advertising spend can't factor in discounting or deals done by the same media house across different publications or stations. However, this does indeed look encouraging, though all the experts agree that we are likely to have a dry spell of a few months post-world cup.

Loyalty dividend

My feeling is that this not simply a numbers game. Those that threw themselves into covering the world cup - and those that coughed up for the right to broadcast it such as the SABC and SuperSport - will get a loyalty dividend from consumers that is incalculable.

The Daily Mirror, the UK tabloid, forked money to print in SA during the tournament, even though there was a risk that England would get knocked out early. Why? Because - as Mark White, the Mirror Group's overseas circulation manager, told Bizcommunity recently - it was "unthinkable" for the paper not to be here. "Some things you have to weigh up the cost and value, don't you?" White said. "It would be like the Financial Times saying they couldn't afford to distribute in Frankfurt."

And White is right. Forever more, when South African think about our world cup - and all the national pride that comes with it - the SABC, SuperSport and all the big above-the-line advertising campaigns such as MTN and Coca-Cola's will be top of mind ayoba-style!
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About Gill Moodie: @grubstreetZA

Gill Moodie (@grubstreetSA) is a freelance journalist, media commentator and the publisher of Grubstreet ( She worked in the print industry in South Africa for titles such as the Sunday Times and Business Day, and in the UK for Guinness Publishing, before striking out on her own. Email Gill at and follow her on Twitter at @grubstreetSA.