Premier League clubs are facing rebate demands from Asian rights holders that could cost them tens of millions of pounds as they wrestle with whether to televise every game in the absence of crowds.
Broadcasters in the biggest Asian markets, including Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand, are unhappy with the rescheduling of many matches to evening kick-offs to benefit domestic fans during September, and will demand refunds if the policy continues for the rest of the season.
The Asian TV market is the most lucrative in the world for the Premier League, even after their £188m-a-year contract in China with Suning Holdings was cancelled earlier this month, with the continent contributing around £400m to the top flight’s £1.2bn overseas rights package.
Premier League clubs face rebate demands from Asian rights holders that could cost millions
Media companies in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and India pay £330m each year to broadcast matches, and the large number of evening kick-offs this season has not gone down well with their commercial partners and viewers due to the time difference.
There have been only two Premier League matches with the traditional Saturday 3pm kick-off this season — Southampton v Crystal Palace and Leeds v Fulham — which is viewed as the primetime slot in Asia.
Of this weekend’s fixtures, four have evening kick-offs with the League anxious to ensure every game has its own slot so that exclusivity is maintained for their domestic rights holders Sky Sports, BT Sport, Amazon Prime and the BBC.
Broadcasters are unhappy with the rescheduling of many matches to evening kick-offs
The League have also introduced an additional Sunday lunchtime kick-off however, which will benefit audiences in Asia.
The League face a balancing act given the growing value of overseas rights, which rose by over a third over the last cycle, much of which was driven by growth in Asia. While fluctuating exchange rates have since reduced the value of the current three-year deal to around £3.6bn, the trend for overseas rights remains upward, whereas the value of the domestic rights package has dropped to £5bn over three years.
Aside from the threat of paying additional rebates at a time when the clubs are missing out on a collective £100m a month due to lost gate receipts, the Premier League are confronting domestic challenges over television.
The introduction of a Sunday lunch-time kick-off will however benefit audiences based in Asia
Many clubs are reluctant to make all matches available for broadcast for the rest of the season amid fears it will reduce their value, and only agreed to do so as a temporary measure on the eve of the campaign.
But they will face strong calls from fan groups to do so. Other clubs oppose giving matches to broadcasters for free, but rights holders are reluctant to commit to additional fees given limited time in their schedules and uncertainty over the rest of the season.
The League have a little over a week to come up with a new broadcast plan, and agree any potential rebates, as the schedule from October 3 onwards has not been finalised.
An emergency meeting of clubs to resolve the issue is expected to be held next week.
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