Airing of M-League matches in limbo

-A +A

PETALING JAYA: Will football fans be able to watch the beginning of the 2015 M-League season in January? This poser has emerged after the FA of Malaysia (FAM) announced yesterday that it is delaying its decision to name a sponsor for FAM and by extension, the league.

The current sponsorship with Astro expires on Dec 31. However, there is a three-month window following the expiration — negotiations can still go on until March 31. The M-League is scheduled to begin in the second week of January.

Astro is equipped to air but as one insider put it: “Why would Astro want to continue spending money to air the matches after expiry of the contract, when it is uncertain if its sponsorship will be renewed?”

Another issue is what if the winning bid goes to a non-broadcaster like the Zenith-IMG consortium?

Astro’s current five-year sponsorship deal is worth RM30 million a year. It also spends RM20 million annually on broadcasting and promoting the league.

Yesterday FAM president Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah said the decision would be delayed but did not give a time frame, citing due process and transparency among factors. “We are looking into the proposals and hope to make a decision soon, but for now we have decided to delay the decision on the sponsors.”

Asked if there is a time frame for FAM to decide on their potential sponsors, Tengku Abdullah only replied that it will be done soon.

Apart from Astro, which is partnering Fox International with a RM55 million a year offer, Telekom Malaysia Bhd and Media Prima Bhd have also come on board with a bid of RM70 million. Zenith and IMG Sports, meanwhile, are offering a joint bid of RM75 million.

The Edge Financial Daily had reported in October that other than being the lowest bidder, what makes Astro’s renewal offer less attractive is the inclusion of a “best practices” clause in which the broadcaster wants to be in the loop over how its sponsorship money is being used, as well as wanting FAM to commit to grassroots development and players’ welfare.

Presently each state FA only receives RM300,000 a year from the RM30 million Astro pumps in annually. It was also reported that Astro had been urged to waive its right to match clause. Meanwhile, there is speculation pointing to FAM hiring a third party company to help the national body in evaluating the sponsorship bids. However, FAM treasurer Datuk Norza Zakaria rubbished the claim.

“Don’t ask me about football,” he said when contacted.

Sources close to the football fraternity have indicated that FAM has in fact hired a company to handle the evaluation of the sponsorship deals and it was approved by the FAM executive committee at a meeting at the Park Royal hotel yesterday. Previously the FAM had been questioned on the need to hire accountant Hashim Natt to negotiate with all three bidders.

Meanwhile, Tengku Abdullah said the privatisation of the M-League has been postponed to 2016.

“We are in the midst of discussion [on] the M-League restructuring. The initial plan was to privatise the league in 2015 but now it has been postponed to 2016 as the process to convert all the teams into club status will take some time. Next year would be impossible but we [hope] it will be done in 2016,” he said.

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on November 18, 2014.