Rugby fans and publicans are angry over PCCW's plans to televise this year's Rugby Union World Cup after learning they will have to pay extra for the privilege of seeing it.
It was one of Hong Kong sport's worst-kept secrets that PCCW had the rights to broadcast the World Cup on Now TV and yesterday the broadcaster said it would screen the tournament, which will take place in New Zealand from September 9 to October 23, on Now TV channel 686, with four deals available.
There is a one-off package fee of HK$388 or an early-bird offer of HK$288 for those subscribing before June 30. Existing customers who just have the Setanta Sports Channel, and not PCCW's full Mega Sports Pack, can pay a one-off HK$198, while new or existing customers who have the Mega Sports Pack can get the event free but only if they extend their current contracts for another 18 months.
Now TV will be running an advertising campaign on its channels from today to promote the new deal. However, critics say PCCW is only using the competition to make some quick cash out of rugby fans.
'This tournament only goes on for six weeks and the first three weeks' play isn't worth watching,' teacher Brian Hastings said. 'No one in their right mind is going to subscribe for this.'
Accountant Denis Browne agreed, saying: 'PCCW must think we are all stupid if they think rugby fans here will spend their money on this. I'll just go to the pub and watch the games.'
However, pubs will also have to pay a commercial fee to show the matches on their premises. The fee has yet to be announced, but bar owners are fed up with having to pay regularly for particular sporting events like this.
'This is a complete joke,' said Noel Smyth, publican of the Dublin Jack in Lan Kwai Fong. 'Just to show Setanta Sports Channel that's on Now TV costs us an extra HK$1,000 a month. Now it'll be the same for a competition that will last for only six weeks. It's like PCCW has a licence to print money.'
PCCW's Now Sports vice-president, Lai Yu-ching, denied the allegations and said the company had done its utmost to provide customers with the best possible deal.
'Initially we had hoped that the World Cup could be shown on the Setanta Sports Channel free of charge, but this did not happen,' he said. 'We then had to negotiate with the International Rugby Board. We're unlikely to make a profit, but we were determined to televise the event, as there are so many rugby union fans in Hong Kong.'
The 2007 World Cup was broadcast by Cable TV and Lai said that the rival broadcaster had been in the running for the 2001 rights.
'As far as I'm aware, Cable TV also put in a bid to buy the television rights for it in Hong Kong as they know how popular the sport is here,' he said. 'But our deal proved to be a better one than theirs.'
That's the global TV audience that watched the 2007 final
- 97 per cent were from the eight main rugby nations