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The American National Basketball Association (NBA) is to play an integral role in resurrecting the idea of a dedicated sports channel, which the SABC intends launching later this year.
After losing the rights for cricket, rugby and, most critically, the domestic soccer league to SuperSport, the SA Broadcasting Corporation is considering a fourth, sports-only channel.
It was earmarked to air in six months, said SABC head of sports Sizwe Nzimande.
“This is about catering for the sports channel so that when we do get it, we will have the right content to interest people,” he said on Tuesday, after the NBA announcement.
“We are hoping to go live on October 1.
“We showed the soccer, cricket and rugby world cups, and now have the best of the best in the NBA.”
The SABC has already broadcast three games – including the fixture between the Los Angeles Lakers and champions Dallas Mavericks two weeks ago, which reportedly attracted 2.1 million viewers.
The NBA matches will continue to be broadcast until the basketball season ends in June; the full season will be shown next year.
Nzimande was tight-lipped about the deal, but said the terrestrial channel had received a “very, very special rate” from its United States partners.
It was an amount that both felt was substantial enough to start the incubation process, Nzimande said.
“The real figure will start after the incubation, with the amount conducive for us and them.
“I want to thank the NBA and their rate that helped this deal to happen.
“Their interest was not money, it was to get the sport onscreen and give exposure to game.
“Also, the Sports Minister (Fikile Mbalula) declared basketball one of the key sports to be played in schools.”
NBA vice president for development in Africa Amadou Gallo Fall said the deal took two years to complete.
“We obviously don't disclose our financial terms, but it's a multi-year partnership that works for both parties,” he said.
“It took two years and we are glad that it's here and our fans have access to the game where the greatest athletes in the world are.”
The highly-successful league surpasses the English Premiership as the most watched sport in the world.
Fall said the NBA would play an integral role in attracting advertising income to the SABC.
“We are going to drive the initiative and get local companies to advertise with the SABC and support the sporting nation.
“With them, we feel our brand is as big as it gets.”
Nzimande saw potential growth in local basketball, encouraged by the huge television figures in the first match shown live.
The game and the local professional league took a nosedive in the mid-90s, which coincided with the broadcaster's dropping of the NBA in 1996.
“Children aspire to be soccer players like (Lionel) Messi, (Wayne) Rooney and Ronaldo because they are all that people see,” Nzimande said.
“If you go back to when it was Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal when we were growing up... The children will now get to see the likes of the Kevin Durandts and the Lebron James of this world.” – Sapa