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English Premier League TV rights deal to hit fans

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 June, 2012, 12:00am

Hong Kong soccer fans can expect to pay more to watch English Premier League matches after the signing of a record-breaking GBP3 billion (HK$36 billion) broadcasting deal in Britain.

The domestic EPL pact with BSkyB and British Telecom is worth 71 per cent more than the current deal, and suggests local broadcasters will have to pay far more to continue carrying matches of the world's most popular soccer league.

Asian media analysts say the three-year agreement could lead to subscriber fee rises of as much as 30 per cent after providers buy the international rights from the British broadcasters. The deal begins after next season, when local Cable TV's current pact also runs out.

The news strikes soccer fans in the midst of the Euro 2012 Championship in which many EPL fans who might subscribe to Cable TV's i-Cable are packing local sport bars to watch Now TV's exclusive broadcast of the matches.

Just last month, sport fans learned that they might not get free television broadcasts of the London Olympics as talks drag on between the sole local rights holder, Cable TV, and over-the-air broadcasters ATV and TVB.

Freelance writer Ed Mathews complained that cost of watching EPL was already too high.

'It would be cheaper to watch your pick of the best matches now in a sports bar,' Mathews said.

Teacher Sean Holmes shared the sentiment, complaining that local broadcasters use soccer to attract new viewers, but continually charge them more.

'It's also an increasingly inferior product,' Holmes said. 'The best footballers in the world play in Spain in La Liga. I'll be cancelling my subscription and just watching La Liga in the future.'

But not everyone had a bad word to say about what soccer fans have to put up with here.

'I don't care because I already watch it via an internet feed for free anyway,' accountant Francis Powell said. 'So you could actually say I'm grateful for the quality that i-Cable's broadband provides.'

Cable TV did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did PCCW, which runs Now TV.

Elsewhere news of the potential fee rises was met with an air of inevitability.

'I would welcome the opportunity for the general public to view the Premier League for free,' tourism lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun said. 'But we have to realise that we're living in a commercial world and the Premier League has become huge worldwide.'

But he said providers should show 'social responsibility' and make sure fees remain affordable.

Toby Cooper, owner of The Globe bar in Central, said the EPL's periodic switching between i-Cable and Now TV put off home subscribers as it compelled them to switch providers. However, he believed most bar owners would accept any fee rises because the channel pays for itself.

'The Premier League is just something you have to have,' Cooper said. 'The price is going up because everyone wants to watch it. It's the biggest league in the world and the interest here far eclipses La Liga and Serie A. That's not going to change.'

80

broadcasters worldwide carry the English Premier league, serving 212 territories, according to the EPL's website

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