England's Top Soccer League Scrambles to Secure Asian TV Deals

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(Aug 10): England’s Premier League is rushing to secure TV deals for some of the competition’s biggest Asian markets ahead of the season’s start on Friday, after financial problems at a rights agency threatened to prevent games being shown.

The league may announce agreements hours before the first match kicks off, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified as the details aren’t yet public. That would allow viewers in seven territories to see the early games, featuring teams including Manchester United and Leicester City.

Sports rights agency MP & Silva has held the rights in countries including Japan and South Korea since 2015, selling them on to broadcasters for a profit. A month ago it missed a deadline to pay the Premier League for the coming season, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The league took the rights back at the end of July and has been scrambling to secure direct deals with broadcasters in those countries before the season begins, said the people. The conflict has threatened to disrupt broadcasts and frustrate millions of people in Asian countries who follow the world’s wealthiest soccer league.

It would also put at risk some of the Premier League’s fastest-growing sources of revenue. The competition brings in around 1.3 billion pounds ($1.7 billion) to 1.4 billion pounds a year in global TV deals, which the league passes on to the 20 clubs that own it. Broadcaster BeIN Sports paid $250 million this year for a three-year agreement to show Premier League matches in the smaller Asian markets of Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

“Our priority is working to ensure agreements are in place so that continued coverage of the Premier League will be available to fans in all the relevant countries,” the league said in an emailed statement.

The league had around 30 contracts with MP & Silva for broadcast rights in overseas territories including Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines.

MP & Silva was founded by Italian businessmen Riccardo Silva and Andrea Radrizzani in 2004, offering Italian soccer broadcast rights. Its portfolio has included many of the overseas rights to the world’s top soccer leagues alongside Formula 1, tennis and volleyball. They sold most of the company in 2016 to China’s Everbright Securities and internet entertainment company Beijing Baofeng Technology for $1 billion.

Sports industry veteran Seamus O’Brien took over as chief executive of MP & Silva on Jan. 1. It has been struggling since the beginning of the year to make payments for many of its rights, according to people familiar with the situation.

A person with knowledge of London-based MP & Silva said its staff of around 80 people were awaiting direction from the board of directors about where the company goes from here.

Italy Troubles

MP & Silva’s troubles are not limited to the U.K.

It was also managing international broadcast rights for Italy’s top Serie A league until October last year, when the league signed a new deal with sports producer IMG. In May, the Serie A league file a complaint against MP & Silva in a Milan court, saying the sports rights company owed it 38 million euros ($44 million), a person familiar with the lawsuit said. MP & Silva is defending the claim, said the person close to MP & Silva. A Milan-based representative of the Italian league declined to comment.

The Spanish League has also dissolved some contracts with MP & Silva and signed with other companies instead, according to another person with knowledge of the Spanish league.

“The timing is bad for rights-holders with a new season just around the corner, giving them little time to agree new deals for those starting a new cycle," says Robin Jellis of TV Sports Markets, a specialist digital trade publication.

Since the Chinese deal, MP & Silva founder Radrizzani has gone on to start Eleven Sports, an ambitious buyer of rights that recently acquired Serie A and La Liga rights exclusively in the U.K., taking them from BT Group Plc and Sky Plc, respectively. From next week it will be showing a limited number of Italian and Spanish games free on Facebook in the U.K. as part of a partnership with the digital giant. - Bloomberg