Breaking the bank to catch the World Cup on TV

Local football fans cry foul as many other countries charge lower fees

Singapore will be one of the most expensive places in the world to watch football's World Cup in June.

Pay-TV operator SingTel announced on Wednesday that it will cost $105, excluding goods and services tax, to catch all 64 matches of the month-long tournament.

This is more than double what fans in Malaysia have to pay and more than five times the price in Hong Kong.

The number of matches being offered on free-to-air TV here also pales in comparison to those in other countries. Only four matches - the Brazil World Cup's opening game, its two semi-finals and final - are set to be screened on terrestrial channels. In contrast, Britain, China, Australia and Cambodia are just some of the countries showing all 64 matches free.

And while fans in Malaysia and Hong Kong will have to pay if they want to watch every match, those who choose not to will still get to watch 35 and 22 games free, respectively.

Football fan Pok Kin Chi, a 28-year-old IT sales engineer, said: "If all countries are paying the same rate, I wouldn't mind. But if the World Cup is offered at lower prices around the region, why can't we do the same?"

Many football fans share Mr Pok's sentiment. On popular online forum Hardware Zone, at least two threads have been started calling for fans to boycott watching this year's World Cup.

Said businessman Kwok Tuck Loong, 40: "It's a bit ridiculous because eight years ago we were paying less than $30 to watch the World Cup.

"The Government needs to step in to stop this over-zealous bidding process, or prices will just keep increasing."

StarHub reportedly paid $10 million and $15 million for the 2002 and 2006 World Cup broadcast rights respectively. A joint bid by StarHub and SingTel in the region of $20 million was reportedly paid for the 2010 edition rights, although both pay-TV operators were initially quoted amounts between $40 million and $100 million.

No Singapore figures have been reported for this year's bid. But as a comparison, Hong Kong pay-TV operator TVB paid HK$400 million (S$65 million) for this year's rights.

The price of World Cup broadcast rights has soared over the years. Rights for the 2002 tournament, co-hosted by Japan and South Korea, netted Fifa, football's world body, US$1.69 billion (S$2.14 billion). By the 2010 tournament in South Africa, rights swelled to US$2.4 billion.

Industry watchers say the aggressive bidding by pay-TV operators can only mean one thing - higher prices for football fans.

Nomura Securities managing director Sachin Gupta said: "The bid amounts are never disclosed, but people try to second-guess based on retail prices, which have been rising.

"And if the two broadcasters (SingTel and StarHub) continue to chase key content to boost their bundles, it is likely that prices can get more expensive."

Some analysts point to Singapore's small population as a reason for the high cost. Pay-TV operators typically make most of their money from subscriptions. So the smaller the market, the more they have to charge.

But a check with countries such as Denmark - whose population of 5.6 million is comparable to Singapore's 5.3 million - revealed that the Danes pay much less to get their World Cup fix.

It costs 25 Danish kroner (S$6) there to watch all 64 matches, which will be split between free-to-air channels and cable television.

Added Mr Gupta: "It's possible that Singaporeans have to pay more because of its small population, plus a strong football fan base here."

One possible reason fans here are paying sky-high prices could be because Singapore has previously shown it has an insatiable appetite for football. In 2009, SingTel reportedly paid $400 million for the English Premier League rights, over three times more than the previous cycle.

While some fans may consider boycotting this year's World Cup because of escalating prices, nightspots have little choice. Businesses are expecting to pay a four-figure sum, although subscription rates for them have yet to be released.

Said Mr Sai Thiha, supervisor at Molly Roffey's Irish Pub at Dorsett: "We will likely be showing the World Cup at our Bras Basah and Esplanade outlets, even if prices increase. It's a big event and our customers will expect to watch the tournament."

siangyee@sph.com.sg

terong@sph.com.sg