AFC Champions League

CSM to carry Chinese AFC soccer broadcasts after LeSports stripped of its rights

The Asian Football Confederation terminates its broadcasting contract in China with LeSports and awards the rights to China Sports Media for the remainder of the 2017-20 cycle

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 February, 2017, 2:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 March, 2017, 9:57am

The Asian Football Confederation has terminated its broadcasting contract in China with LeSports and awarded the rights to China Sports Media for the remainder of the 2017-20 commercial cycle.

The sport’s continental governing body said CSM, which already has the rights for China’s domestic league, had secured the rights for AFC-sanctioned competitions including World Cup qualifiers, the Asian Cup and the AFC Champions League.

The AFC said it “no alternative but to terminate its contract with LeTV, which had been signed in August 2015”.

“We look forward to working with CSM in the next few years as they are committed to providing the best and most comprehensive coverage of the AFC competitions for the tens of millions of Asian football fans in China,” AFC general secretary Windsor John said.

Chinese sports media company LeSports apologised to fans, saying on Weibo: “People will not be able to watch AFC competitions this year. Sorry for letting you down”.

The new deal was agreed with CSM chairman Li Yidong and means there will be uninterrupted coverage of this week’s AFC Champions League fixtures in China, including Tuesday’s match between Shanghai SIPG and Western Sydney Wanderers in group F.

LeSports was stripped of its rights to broadcast Asian Football Confederation coverage after defaulting on payments, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company, a subsidiary of billionaire Jia Yueting’s smartphone-to-taxi service business LeEco, missed a payment in January and another deadline to pay a portion of its US$100 million contract by last week, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is subject to a lawsuit.

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LeSports’ failure to make the payment is the first sign of cracks in China’s super-charged media market for sports rights, which has seen companies bid up the price of soccer properties from the domestic Super League to England’s Premier League to record levels.

PPTV in November agreed to buy three years of Premier League for more than US$650 million, more than 12 times the current contract.

The deal between LeSports and the Asian Confederation was negotiated by Lagardere Sport and Entertainment, an agency that has exclusive rights to sell the AFC’s media and marketing properties.

LeSports was given a final mid-February deadline to make a payment that was due at the start of January, and after missing that too, the company was told that its contract was terminated and legal action would be taken to secure the funds, one of the people said.

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LeSports’ problems come amid an increasingly competitive race between Chinese media companies paying premium prices for top sports content. The companies, including units underpinned by some of the country’s biggest businesses, are betting that the loss-leading ventures will one day lead to profits following a growth in subscriber and viewer numbers.

Yueting has been battling allegations over missed payments related to some of his other ventures, with some suppliers taking legal action in the US over unpaid debts. Last month, the billionaire apologised for making “inappropriate” comments about boosting the stock price of LeEco’s main listed unit.

Associated Press, Bloomberg