It’s squeaky bum time for Champions League
Singtel: Talks 'inconclusive' as new broadcast rights holder yet to firm up plans
With just a week before the Uefa Champions League (UCL) kicks off, pay-TV operators Singtel and StarHub are still locked in negotiations over the right to broadcast the UCL and Uefa Europa League (UEL) here.
The New Paper understands the talks involve London-based live sports streaming service DAZN, which was listed on Uefa's website as Singapore's broadcast partner for last month's Uefa Super Cup, which is contested by last season's UCL and UEL winners.
Responding to complaints on its Facebook page, Singtel said DAZN, a new content provider, had won the rights to three seasons of the UCL and UEL from this year.
The rights were previously held by Eurosport.
The telco said discussions have so far been inconclusive as DAZN has yet to confirm its broadcast plans here.
DAZN's website said its streaming service, launched in 2016, is available in Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Canada and Japan.
Attempts by TNP yesterday to reach DAZN and its owner, Perform Group, which has an office in Telok Ayer, were unsuccessful. Its London headquarters also did not reply to queries by press time.
StarHub too said it was still in discussions but declined to give further details.
Mr R. Sasikumar, founder of sports marketing agency Red Card Global, told TNP that the TV market here is shrinking as the trend moves towards Netflix-style over-the-top (OTT) and on-demand services.
The TV pundit and former national player said broadcasters should therefore collaborate, as they did for the 2018 World Cup, rather than compete against one another.
He said: "I was pleasantly surprised to see how the rights to the World Cup was shared among the three broadcasters. I think that is the way to go."
For the first time, Mediacorp, Singtel and StarHub worked together to provide World Cup coverage while keeping prices unchanged.
"There is absolutely no point in one party outbidding (the others) in such a small marketplace. At the end of the day, if you can't make numbers meet, then everybody is in trouble," Mr Sasikumar added.
A Mediacorp spokesman told TNP it was not in discussions relating to UCL broadcast rights.
A Manchester United fan, who wanted to be known only as Mr Vicknesh, said he could forgo watching other European football leagues on TV, but the UCL is non-negotiable.
The 32-year-old, who has subscribed to Singtel's pay-TV service since 2009, said: "I am unhappy because of what it started with, what was advertised and what we have now.
"At its peak, we had all the major leagues and the UCL, but everything has dwindled. If the UCL goes, it is the last straw."
"A lot of my friends are already streaming matches. I didn't want to do it because it is not legal. We want to support (the telcos) but the situation now is really atrocious."
Singapore fans may not be the only ones to miss out.
Mr James Walton, sports business group leader for Deloitte South-east Asia (SEA) told TNP: "The cost for the other (SEA) countries is usually not as high as Singapore, which is a key monetised market for football - but it seems that the rights negotiation is problematic across the region this year."
On the Uefa Super Cup webpage, DAZN is also listed as a broadcast partner for Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.
Complaints have also been made on Malaysian pay-TV operator Astro's Facebook page over the uncertainty of the live broadcast of UCL matches.
Mr Sasikumar and Mr Walton agreed that it would be unthinkable for the UCL not to be shown here.
Mr Sasikumar said losing the regional market would impact sponsorship money and viewership.
"It is not just about money, it is also about branding."
Mr Walton said rights holders like DAZN will want to cover their costs, which could be a sticking point in negotiations as buyers would need to meet the price already paid.
He added: "This is one of the most valuable sporting properties worldwide, so there will still be a determination to get a deal done on all sides - both for Uefa, who wants to build its brand in the lucrative (SEA) markets, and for local TV companies, who want advertising revenue and subscriptions using this exclusive content."
Mr Sasikumar said anxious football fans here must learn to live with the negotiating tactic of leaving deals until the last minute.
"It is the way the game is played," he added.