March 14 2018
By Haresh Deol
IT will be a month-long of nothing but football.
Every meeting, every WhatsApp group, every teh tarik session will be flooded with conversations about the artistic footwork of some of the greatest footballers on earth or controversial decisions by the men in black as Russia plays host to the 2018 Fifa World Cup (June 14 – July 15).
In fact, the off-pitch drama has already started with United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May, flashing the yellow card early on – saying British dignitaries and ministers could boycott the event as Russia was “highly likely” behind the suspected poisoning of a former spy in England.
Russia, had on March 13, responded by saying threats to boycott the World Cup over the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent, would damage London’s ties with Moscow and would be a “blow to world sport”.
Even more interesting – and a subject I have been following throughout every edition – is the prices of broadcasting rights. In short, how much would a consumer need to pay given the ridiculous escalating prices to air the World Cup?
Let’s look at several examples in the region:
Fans would be able to watch 19 matches, including the opening match and final, for free after paid station NOW TV secured the broadcasting rights.
To watch all 64 matches, an early bird package will cost HK$280 (RM139.58) but NOW TV users will also have to subscribe to other plans worth over HK$100 (RM49.85) a month for a “required period”. In short, the islanders will have to fork out more than RM189 to watch all matches live.
In 2016, Internet giants LeEco secured the Hong Kong broadcasting rights for the 2018 World Cup finals, costing them US$80 million (RM312.64 million) – double the amount TVB paid for the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
A High Court in Hong Kong had in February ordered the winding up of LE Corporation, the cash-strapped Hong Kong unit of LeEco, following debts of at least HK$74 million (RM36.89 million).
Fans are expected to pay more to watch all 64 matches compared to the SGD112 (RM333.33) they paid four years ago.
It still remains unclear if broadcasters in the republic have come to an agreement with the rights holder Infront Sports & Media. And the clock is ticking with the World Cup barely three months away.
James Walton, Deloitte Singapore and South-east Asia sports business group leader, told Singapore’s Straits Times the global rights deals for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups are “on average 90 per cent higher than the (previous) World Cup packages”.
An industry insider was quoted by the Straits Times as saying the price range of the package could be between SGD140 (RM416) and SDG150 (RM446).
Transmedia Group secured the rights to broadcast the World Cup. There will be no additional fees for their existing TransVision customers but Transvision director Hengkie Liwanto was quoted by Detik.com as saying “new customers will have to fork out a year’s subscription of Rp1.2 million (RM328).”
Consumers don’t have to fork out a single cent as matches will be aired on free television stations. To make this happen, several conglomerates and government-linked agencies led by King Power International Group will equally share the licence cost. The other parties involved are CP All, Thai Bev, Ptt Public Company Ltd, Bangkok Mass Transit System, the Government Lottery Office and the Energy Development Company.
Back home, Astro Sports Pack subscribers will get to enjoy the World Cup with no additional charges. Subscribers who do not have the sports pack can watch all matches by paying an additional RM100. Non-Astro customers can purchase the Astro GO and NJOI Now football pass at RM120 and watch all 64 matches across all platforms – from mobile devices to televisions.
RTM will also air selected matches.
Equally interesting is the changing habits of fans watching the World Cup.
Snack Media and Snack Gaming had, in its recent survey involving 1,800 football fans from the companies’ over 25 million-strong network of fans, revealed:
- 65 per cent of World Cup fans will be watching at home on television.
- 16 per cent of fans will catch the games at pubs.
- 25 per cent will turn to digital channels for news.
- 8 per cent will turn to newspapers for news.
The main companion for television viewers during matches will be their phones (social media) instead of their mates. This would also mean pubs will have to do more to get people out of the comfort of their homes.
Despite some relying on streaming live matches from pirate websites, television (85 per cent) remains the main viewing platform. And so it should be given the crystal clear projection and amplified sound of the ball cutting through the air as it heads to the corner of the net, resulting in loud cheers from the stands.
For the lucky few who will be heading to Russia – I envy you. For the rest of us who will be watching the matches at home, or your regular mamak shop or watering hole, let the magical power of football mesmerise you.
Let the countdown begin!
Haresh Deol is a multi-award winning journalist. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter (@HareshDeol).