Spiralling Fifa World Cup rights fees could spell end for Hong Kong football fans watching live on TV

Industry insider says escalating cost of securing rights will make it extremely difficult for local broadcasters to provide service for Qatar tournament in four years’ time

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 June, 2018, 9:40am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 June, 2018, 10:35pm

Enjoying the World Cup live from Russia on your big-screen television? Well, treasure the moment because it might be the last time Hong Kong football fans will be able to legally watch the month-long extravaganza.

Hong Kong football fans are in danger of missing out on watching future live games as the escalating cost to secure the rights for the month-long Fifa tournament could prove well beyond what local broadcasters are willing to pay to gain a slice of the action.

Television rights for the tournament being played in Russia cost a whopping US$70 million (HK$546 million), which mainland broadcaster LeSports originally secured only to come up short after paying the first four instalments.

Now TV stepped in by paying the remaining costs after free-to-air local broadcasters TVB passed up the opportunity.

Costs are expected rise ahead of the next World Cup in Qatar in 2022, making it extremely difficult for any local broadcaster to pay for the rights.

Four years ago, TVB paid US$40 million to football’s global governing body Fifa, plus another US$20 million on production and other related costs.

“If the broadcasting fees keep skyrocketing, I don’t think any Hong Kong broadcasting media company would be willing to dish out big money to pay for TV rights for the Qatar World Cup in four years’ time,” said a World Cup broadcasting veteran speaking under condition of anonymity.

“Even TVB reported a loss for the 2014 event despite having strong advertising pulling power and dominance in the [media] business. With LeSports also gone, the prospect doesn’t look very good.”

LeSports was the original rights holder for the 2018 Russia tournament in Hong Kong after agreeing terms with Fifa in 2016. However, LeSports has been experiencing financial problems, closing their Hong Kong offices three months ago.

“LeSports was asking for US$17 million to sell their rights, paying Fifa the last instalment and keeping some for their own operations,” said the insider.

“TVB was not interested [in the rights], while Now TV was happy to take it. But certainly it won’t be that amount again for the Qatar event as Fifa are most likely to increase their price.

“Even if Fifa demands the same amount [US$70 million], it will still be a huge figure for any broadcaster to come up with, knowing it would be extremely difficult to make a profit.”

Now TV’s World Cup money grab is fleecing Hong Kong football fans

Four years ago at the Brazil World Cup, Fifa was unable to reach a deal with Singapore broadcasters who ended up showing just four live matches – the opening game, plus two semi-finals and the final.

“The same situation may happen in Hong Kong for the Qatar World Cup. Of course, this is not desirable and will definitely let many people down,” warned the insider, who said the government should buy the broadcasting rights and show the World Cup free-to-air.

“The World Cup captures the imagination of the public and not only football fans. Fans in China, for instance, can watch all the games free on [state-run] CCTV, who bought the rights and who create their own programmes and sell it to all major provincial broadcasters at an affordable rate. It works.”

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

Hong Kong fans were last able to watch every World Cup game for free at the 1998 tournament in France. When Cable TV, a paid subscription channel, first secured the broadcasting rights for the 2002 tournament in South Korea and Japan, fans were required to pay a subscription fee.

Cable TV continued to be the sole broadcasters for the next two events until TVB regained rights for the 2014 tournament. By then only 22 matches were shown live on its free channels, while fans needed to subscribe to its paid channel to watch all 64 matches.

Only 19 matches in Russia are being shown live on Viu TV, a free channel, including the two semi-finals and final. Only Now TV subscribers can watch all 64 matches. Viu TV and Now TV both fall under the PCCW Media umbrella.