The city's first 24-hour television channel dedicated to Hong Kong soccer may be scrapped after just one season if Now TV cannot meet a fee reduction requested by clubs.
The Hong Kong Football Association and 10 First Division clubs are pitching in HK$6 million this season to subsidise the channel, with each club contributing HK$40,000 a month and the association HK$1.2 million in total.
In return, selected matches are broadcast live on the channel, which also produces programming carrying team news, player interviews and match previews.
At a First Division club meeting yesterday, however, the teams insisted Now TV had to reduce the fee to at most half of what it is this season, even though that could mean the channel being axed. It is believed the association has signed a three-year contract with Now TV.
'We've all found the channel to be a great platform to promote the game across the city,' said South China boss Steven Lo Kit-sing. 'But the clubs want a fee reduction for next season because we think HK$40,000 a month is too much. We have asked the association to negotiate a better deal with Now TV. We also want the association to secure more commercial sponsorship for the channel to help offset costs.'
Already Sunray Cave Sun Hei, the Senior Shield champions, have refused to pay the monthly fee and as a result, Now TV has suspended all live coverage of their home games this season.
District club Tuen Mun also recently indicated that they can only pay HK$20,000 a month, while Wofoo Tai Po and Biu Chun Rangers are also pressing for a fee reduction.
'As far as we are concerned, the commitment to Now TV is only for one year and we will have to negotiate a better deal for next season,' said Tai Po secretary Chan Ping. 'If Now TV fails to offer us a better deal, we will have to end our commitment. In many cases, it is the TV network that pays the clubs for covering matches. We know the market for local soccer is not as mature as that in many parts of the world, but we still find it unacceptable that we have pay such a large amount for TV coverage.'
The Now Sports channel's vice-president, Lai Yu-ching, has said the channel would cost HK$30 million a year to operate and that the broadcaster hoped to recoup some or all of that with contributions from the association, advertising income and subscription fees. Lai was not available for comment last night.
Meanwhile, the clubs also decided yesterday to stick with a 10-team First Division next season. There had been talk of expanding the top division to 12 teams. 'I don't think we have sufficient quality players at this time to sustain 12 teams in the First Division,' said Lo.
In another resolution, it was decided only four foreign players per team will be allowed on the pitch at any one time next season, including one of Asian origin. This is in line with the Asian Football Confederation quota for foreign players in regional club competitions. This season, each club is allowed to field five foreign players, including one of Asian origin.
The sum, in Hong Kong dollars, paid to the league in sponsorship by bma entertainment this season. HK$1.2m went to Now TV