Football fans confused over telcos' rebate offers

Whether customers choose SingTel or StarHub, they will be paying more for EPL

Amid the confusing rebate war between SingTel and StarHub to win customers over to their sides, one thing is clear: Whatever fans choose, they will be paying more this year to watch English Premier League football on TV.

Yesterday, StarHub announced a $300 rebate for customers who sign up or recontract for broadband-cum-TV bundles while taking up the EPL content to be cross-carried on its service.

SingTel, which holds the rights to the EPL on cable TV, has said it will charge a standalone price of $59.90 per month.

Factoring the rebate into StarHub's cheaper Surf & Watch bundle of $47.37 a month, it would cost a subscriber $94.77 a month to watch the EPL on StarHub in addition to getting a 25 Mbps cable broadband service and 82 other TV channels.

This rises to $109.77 for a 100 Mbps service plus 82 TV channels.

Not to be outdone, SingTel is offering a $480 rebate, also for customers who choose a TV and broadband bundle.

To be eligible, customers must sign up for its Gold EPL pack, priced at $64.90 a month, and bundle it with a 150Mbps fibre broadband plan, at $69.90. This bundle totals $115, after working in the $20 monthly rebate.

SingTel's Gold bundle lets its viewers watch the Champions League and other sports and entertainment programmes on 80 channels, on top of the EPL.

But both parties are giving this to only new or recontracting customers, who will be locked into a fresh two-year deal.

Many football fans are unmoved by the latest promotional offers, saying they are confusing and a marketing ploy.

IT engineer Cho Wei Hong, 30, said: "I won't sign up with anyone. It's too much to pay."

Business development manager Heng Wai Keong, 38, is also forgoing a home package for EPL altogether, saying he would rather catch the matches at community centres or coffee shops. "This is all very confusing, expensive and burdensome," he said.

People who already have a broadband plan do not qualify for the rebates. The cheapest option for this group is plain: Pay $59.90 for the standalone EPL.

Even this option has a few hidden costs. For one thing, consumers who don't have a high-definition (HD) set-top box need to rent one for $5 from SingTel and $6 from StarHub every month.

Second, while SingTel does not require EPL customers to buy a basic pay-TV package, StarHub does. The cheapest way to get started on StarHub is to sign up for an HD pack, at $27 a month. So the total start-up cost to watch EPL on StarHub, without the rebate, is about $87 a month.

SingTel's is still the cheapest EPL deal, at $59.90, for new pay-TV subscribers who already have broadband Internet at home.

Producer Joe Peter, 34, said he will not benefit from any of the rebates as he has an existing broadband connection. But the diehard football fan said he would buy EPL from StarHub as he is already a pay-TV customer.

"It is pricey but what else can I do?" he said.

At $59.90, the current price is nearly twice that of SingTel's previous $34.90 Sports+ bundle, which came with English football, the Champions League and other sports content.

In the past three years, SingTel has had exclusive rights to screen the EPL after wresting it from StarHub in 2010.

Following a public outcry for not being able to watch the matches unless viewers also subscribed to SingTel's mio TV service, the Media Development Authority (MDA) introduced the cross-carriage rule in 2011. It was to prevent consumers from having to switch to or add another pay-TV operator because it had secured a monopoly on content.

Specifically, the rule requires any pay-TV provider here who buys exclusive content on or after March 12, 2010, to offer the same content to its rival's customers at the same price and terms as what it charges its subscribers.

Last Friday, Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim rejected SingTel's appeal against MDA's order in April that the telco's latest three-year deal for EPL rights was exclusive, and said it must be shared with StarHub.

itham@sph.com.sg