TV Sports channel ESPN says its rights to screen live European football matches in Hong Kong may have been infringed by a Thai TV station and it may take legal action. The move could affect thousands of SAR football fans who flock to bars and clubs to watch English Premiership matches. ESPN holds exclusive rights to broadcast the Uefa Champion's League, and last month secured the right to screen the English FA Cup in Hong Kong from CSI, the competition's international rights holder. Both events enjoy a large following among local fans and ESPN used to team up with Cable TV to screen them live in the SAR. But after a fall-out between the two companies last season, and Cable's loss of the English FA Cup rights early this year, Hong Kong football fans can no longer tune in to top action. And with a question mark hanging over whether Cable will lose the right to screen the English Premiership next season, many punters have turned to private satellite companies to pick up Thai pay-TV channels. For $17,000, football fans can have a satellite dish and decoder installed, and with a $3,800 annual fee, the subscriber can watch all major European matches live. A member of staff from a private satellite company in Sai Kung said business was booming since Cable lost the FA Cup rights. 'We offer four sports channels: Star Sports, ESPN [in Thailand], Super Sports and Super Sports Gold. They screen live matches from major English soccer events as well as European football. The majority of our customers are bars and expatriates. There are hundreds of subscribers in Hong Kong.' She said the annual fee was not paid to the company but to Thai Star, a pay-TV station in Thailand. An ESPN spokesman said the company was concerned about the presence of Thai TV in Hong Kong. 'We are watching the situation closely and are waiting to gather more information. But like other pay-TVs, we are not happy to see such an infringement. 'The rights for carrying these events in Hong Kong are awarded to us exclusively, so the market shouldn't be shared.' The spokesman assured Hong Kong football fans that the sports channel would come back. 'We are well prepared to come back to Hong Kong. Apart from Cable, we are also in touch with other licensed pay television stations.' He said ESPN had provided services to 29 hotels in Hong Kong to screen live matches it carried during its absence. 'Many hotels approached us and asked for the service after our withdrawal from Cable last year.' The deal with hotels started in June last year and the spokesman said it was well received. 'Up to now it is free. The hotels only need to pay for the installation fee. But we can't provide free services forever and will impose a charge later.' The spokesman said regardless of ESPN's negotiations with other TV stations, the deal with the hotels was separate and would not be affected. A spokesman for the City Garden Hotel said it had subscribed to ESPN services after repeated requests from customers, adding: 'We have ESPN programmes in hotel rooms and in our lobby bar. On those big event nights, our business is pretty good.' Cable TV senior external affairs manager Chan So-kuen said the company was still fighting to secure the rights for English Premier League next season. The result of the bidding should be known late this month.