Fifa World Cup coverage will never be free for out-of-pocket Hongkongers again, says sports commissioner

Yeung Tak-keung says the government will not change its approach to the broadcasting rights of soccer’s showpiece, which means fans must pay to see every match

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 June, 2018, 5:50pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 June, 2018, 11:07pm

Watching the entire Fifa World Cup for free is destined to remain a thing of the past for Hongkongers, with the government saying it has no plans to bring soccer’s showpiece back to free-to-air television.

The last time Hong Kong viewers were given free access to the entire World Cup finals was 20 years ago when TVB was the broadcaster for the 1998 tournament in France.

Since then, fans have had to pay for access to every match of a tournament that has always been a favourite across different sectors of the community.

The government is unlikely to change its approach despite suggestions it should buy the rights and give them to all television stations for free broadcasting.

“This is market oriented as the broadcasters pay for the television rights,” said sports commissioner Yeung Tak-keung, who appeared at the Watson’s Students’ Sports Awards presentation on Monday morning after saying he watched all three World Cup matches the previous night.

“So far the atmosphere in the community is fine and we have to remember this is just the beginning of the group stages. I am sure the atmosphere will turn heated in the later stages.”

While there are 19 matches free on Viu TV, NowTV won the right to show the whole tournament.

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Bars and other commercial groups have complained about the price of the package for venues, which started at HK$37,000 for early birds and was priced closer to HK$45,000 by the start of the tournament.

Another pay station, Cable TV, was the sole broadcaster for three consecutive World Cup finals from 2002 to 2010, while TVB took the rights for the 2014 Brazil tournament but only 22 matches were broadcast free and fans had to buy a package for watching all 64 matches.

In 2010 after the South Africa World Cup and the 2012 London Olympics were awarded exclusively to Cable TV, Legco member Tam Yiu-chung asked if the government had examined the feasibility and the costs involved in bidding for the broadcasting rights of international sports events and distributing them in a fair manner among media organisations.

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However, the government said bidding for the broadcasting rights of international sports events is “a commercial decision” and that generally governments would not directly participate in such activities, with Hong Kong being “no exception”.