How much?! Hong Kong bars blast NowTV over huge bill to show World Cup 2018 matches
Cable broadcaster hits drinking establishments in the pocket with hefty price tag for football tournament subscription package
The biggest party in sport kicks off next week, but instead of expecting a Hong Kong Sevens-like windfall, the drinking institutions of Wan Chai, Soho and Lan Kwai Fong have been left holding a huge bar bill.
While ViuTV will be screening 19 World Cup games for free, cable broadcaster NowTV made Hong Kong’s bars lock in a HK$37,000 (US$4,716) subscription before the end of January if they wanted a discounted “early-bird” price to screen every match.
“NowTV have got you over a barrel with what you have to pay and what you have to do,” said Toby Cooper, director of The Globe bar in Graham Street, Soho.
For any Johnny-come-latelys, NowTV’s subscription package for the month-long tournament in Russia, which starts on June 14, is now priced closer to HK$45,000.
That outlay is also on top of the HK$14,000 bars already pay for a regular NowTV sports subscription to screen Premier League football matches – a figure which roughly equates to an extra member of staff.
“We have a decent enough size of 3,000 square feet. For a place as big as we are, it’s OK. It does bring people in, we do get business out of it,” Cooper said.
“I can understand why smaller places wouldn’t be so keen to commit that much money. I think because of the price there’ll be lots of bars that just stream it. There’s a million ways of streaming.
“With the price so high it becomes unachievable for many places. It’s a lot of money if you don’t have a lot of seats and a lot of space.”
A NowTV spokesperson said: “We offer different World Cup packages for commercial customers to meet their different needs. Customers are welcome to contact us to discuss their specific needs.”
However, one disgruntled Wan Chai bar manager claimed he was made no such offer, complaining that NowTV’s pricing did not factor in the size of his establishment compared to a nearby one owned by the same company.
“Why should I pay the same price even though I can only get 59 people in my bar, but the one down the road can fit 200 in?” asked the manager, who wished to remain anonymous.
Other bar managers in popular nightlife areas also expressed frustration with the price.
Some bars feel they have no choice but to take the hit, with illegal streaming risking heavy fines from broadcast licensers.
Customs officials are also cracking down on illegal set-top boxes ahead of the World Cup – eight shop owners and sales assistants were arrested and 354 boxes with pre-installed infringing apps worth HK$320,000 were seized in raids in Wan Chai and Sham Shui Po last month.
The larger chain establishments with deeper pockets in Lan Kwai Fong and Soho, such as Hooters and Cali-Mex, will be screening all the matches.
For other independent bars, the price is just too high. Al’s Diner in D’Aguilar Street, Lan Kwai Fong, screened matches from the 2014 Brazil World Cup but decided against it this time.
“Most of the bars will be showing it, not us,” a member of staff said.
The timing of the matches in Russia is at least kinder to the bar industry than four years ago when the time difference meant a series of early morning kick-offs with Hong Kong 11 hours ahead.
This time around there are 6pm kick-offs on weekends and 8pm kick-offs on weekdays, but bars without late licenses will be unable to show the 11pm and 2am games from Russia.
“The timing isn’t fantastic for The Globe because all of the better games are 2am,” said Cooper, whose bar has a 2am licence.
“I think it’ll be busy but I’m not expecting to make enormous amounts of money.”
The surprise absence of some big-name teams in Russia will also hit Hong Kong’s bars hard.
“The game times are good but the games themselves are not so good – a few big teams with a big killer expat population in Hong Kong missed out on qualifying like the US and Italy. So it will be a trade off,” one owner said.
“In Brazil, the times were bad but they had better teams. Still, a 2am game gets a good crowd in Wan Chai.
“We see it as a defensive strategy – if we don’t have it on then people will go to other bars. I would expect to see revenues up but I don’t think too much, because the games aren’t as exciting.”