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CSA sells Mzansi Super League rights to free-to-air broadcaster SABC

The Jozi Stars team celebrates with the inaugural MSL trophy MSL

CSA has sold the broadcast rights for the second edition of the Mzansi Super League (MSL) to the SABC, South Africa's insolvent free-to-air broadcaster. This is a change from last season when the SABC were gifted the rights without having to pay anything, after CSA failed to strike a deal with their regular broadcast partner, pay television operator SuperSport, despite repeated efforts.

While SuperSport continue to hold the rights for all South African international and other domestic cricket, a spokesperson confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that they did not put in a bid for the MSL.

Neither CSA nor the SABC were willing to divulge the amount the MSL rights were sold for but CSA called the agreement "more commercially viable" than last season, when CSA budgeted a loss of R40 million (US$2.6 million) for the inaugural edition of the MSL. Sources claim the actual figure was higher.

"We can confirm that the deal with SABC was different from the first edition of MSL in that this year, it is more commercially viable for us. As the lifeblood for CSA, broadcast revenue remains key for us, and we are pleased for the SABC's investment in our valued property and for the assistance in providing access to millions of cricket-loving South Africans who may otherwise not be able to enjoy the game," Kugandrie Govender, CSA's chief commercial officer, told ESPNcricinfo.

The SABC will broadcast all 32 matches live on both television and radio, in prime-time slots from November 8 for five weeks. Fixtures will be played on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings, starting at 5.30pm local time, Saturday afternoons will kick off at 12.30pm and there are double-headers every Sunday at 10am and 12pm local time. These timings are earlier than the usual 6pm starts and 2.30pm matches, with CSA explaining the changes are a result of market research.

Securing the MSL is a major coup for the cash-strapped SABC, who have requested a R3.2 billion (US$ 289 million) government bailout and have been unable to broadcast other high-profile sports events. They only showed South Africa's first two matches of the men's World Cup 2019 live, required the sports minister's intervention to strike a deal with SuperSport to put South Africa's Premier Soccer League on air and they are also not broadcasting any of the ongoing Rugby World Cup. Having the exclusive rights to some sport, albeit it is a local event, is unusual for the broadcaster.

Whether CSA can boast of the same benefit is unlikely. The organisation forecast losses of R654 million (US$42.8 million) for the four-year cycle 2018-2019 to 2022-2023, though the South African Cricketers' Association puts that figure closer to R1 billion (US$ 65.6 million). The sale of the most recent MSL rights will reduce that amount "drastically" according to Govender, but CSA were unable to provide any concrete numbers. Doubtless, CSA's financial situation will also depend on the outcome of their renegotiation of a rights package with SuperSport, whose six-year deal with CSA ends in April 2021.