South Africa’s football league gains control of match content

PSLSouth Africa’s Premier Soccer League has only been in existence for 18 years and yet somehow, it has accomplished something no professional league has been able to do.

It now owns copyright for any betting done on its matches.

The announcement was made last week by PSL chairman Dr Irvin Khoza, making the PSL the only league in the world that has full control of its match content other than FIFA. What this means is that any betting firm looking to distribute rights to bet on PSL matches will have to pay the league a monetary amount.

No specifics were given on how much that “amount” is going to be, but for now, that number is put in the back burner because of the magnitude of this announcement, which essentially makes the PSL a pioneer in this specific front.

“We are in the content business”, Dr. Khoza said. “It helps us secure our income streams at a time when there is an explosion in the media and communications landscape that could easily undermine our rights.”

The PSL successfully secured exclusive rights to its match content after a long and tedious court battle with the country’s national lottery distributor  Gidani. The PSL’s gripe against Gidani was the former’s belief that the latter was illegally using its product to generate millions in revenue from using the league’s match lists, money that the league believes it is entitled to.

Before last week’s decision, Gidani had included PSL fixtures in SportStake, its football betting game in which a listing of 12 fixtures is published in the order of home team versus visiting team. PSL contested that Gidani didn’t have the authority to do that and the millions that it had generated should have gone to aid in the development of the sport in South Africa.

“The millions of rands that are made out of our fixtures was mind-boggling when we got the statistics,” Dr. Khoza said last November when the case was brought up to the  South Gauteng High Court.

As part of Gidani’s argument, the national lottery pointed to a statement released by the Court of Justice of the European Union back in 2012 saying that football leagues may not be able to claim copyright protection for matches’ schedules.

But the PSL’s lawyer, Roger Wakefield, refuted the announcement, saying that South Africa isn’t bound by European legislation and as such, Gidani’s argument of using the European court’s ruling in its case against the PSL was invalid.

So after months of back-and-forth between the two parties, the courts eventually took the side of the football league, giving it full ownership of betting on its match content. As far as what it plans to do with after winning the landmark case, the PSL has made it clear that it’s not going to stop betting on its matches but will do so with the full intention of regulating them to make sure that there is a legal arrangement between the league and the betting houses.

“As the PSL, we are not encouraging betting but we were just protecting what belongs to us,” Dr. Khoza explained. “Intellectual property is very important and in this instance, we are protecting our content.”